Thursday, February 28, 2013

Ereth's Birthday (Tales of Dimwood Forest #4) by Avi


My favorite of the series so far.

Ereth is a (hilariously) cantankerous old curmudgeon of a porcupine with a hidden heart of gold. Up until now, Ereth has always been the protector, keeping Poppy safe with his quills. But in this book, the perspective shifts as Ereth is hunted by a fisher.

Like previous books in series, there are a couple themes and lessons: "Don't be disrespectful or cruel to nature." "Helping others is its own reward." Still, this installment is not nearly as allegorical as the earlier books, and I liked that I could enjoy the book for its pure entertainment value.

Again, I found myself thinking that this book might be better suited for older elementary school readers, maybe 2nd or 3rd through 5th graders. Like Poppy, this book contains a somewhat graphic description of an anthropomorphized animal's death, and the follow-up scene, in which the dead fox's children learn of their mother's death, is pretty emotional. There's also an egotistical, absentee father, which doesn't fit the "happy family" mold usually depicted in children's books.

One thing I found particularly interesting in this book was its portrayal of several different perspectives, perhaps showing young readers that the world is a complex place. Marty the fisher is carnivorous, and he hunts Ereth, yet he gets angry when the human hunters' trap kills Leaper the fox. The animals, though predator and prey of each other, are united against the common enemy of man.

Also, though Ereth starts out pretty antagonistic towards meat eaters - on page 49 he says, "All meat eaters are jerks!" - he eventually accepts that the fox kits eat meat. I actually wondered if there might be a vegetarian agenda in this book, but then realized that it's probably just really difficult to be sympathetic towards carnivores in a book of anthropomorphized animals. In light of that reality, it's pretty remarkable that Ereth, an herbivorous porcupine whose best friends are mice, came to befriend carnivorous foxes who eat mice. (Though rest assured, per Ereth's request, they agree to give up mice.)

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