Illustrated by Brian Floca
Ages 8 to 12
HarperCollins, 1995, 0-380-72769-2
For Poppy and her family, life is a difficult balancing act between doing what needs to be done to get the food that they need and doing what needs to be done to stay safe. Things are only made more complicated by the fact that they are ‘ruled’ over by a huge owl called Mr. Ocax who considers himself to be the “king” of Dimwood Forest. The mice cannot venture far from their home without Mr. Ocax’s permission but in return he “protects” them from predators such as porcupines, creatures which just love to eat mice. Poppy’s father believes everything Mr. Ocax tells him and does everything the owl demands.
One evening, Poppy and her boyfriend Ragweed make the mistake of venturing beyond the bounds that Mr. Ocax has set for the mice and Ragweed is killed and eaten by the terrifying owl. Poppy herself barely escapes with her life. Mr. Ocax further disrupts the life of Poppy’s family by insisting that they cannot, indeed may not, move to a larger home. He blames his refusal on Poppy and Ragweed but Poppy cannot help feeling that there is something else going on – that there is another reason why Mr. Ocax does not want the mouse family to move to New Farm.
So, Poppy sets out for New Farm to find out the truth for herself. On the way she meets Ereth, a porcupine who quickly sets her straight about what porcupines like to eat. Indeed the grumpy, foul-mouthed beast sets her straight about a lot of things but Poppy still likes him and the prickly creatures make a wonderful protector when Mr. Ocax tries to attack her.
This extraordinary tale about the adventures of a little mouse will keep readers sitting on the edge of their seats as they travel with Poppy into uncharted territory. Avi’s characters seem to have a life of their own and show all the characteristics that one would expect from real creatures; they tell lies and manipulate one another; they are vain and pompous; they are fearful and also brave. In Ereth’s case, he is a constant source of amusement as he rattles and swears his way across the pages.
Readers will come to understand how important it is for even the smallest and weakest of us to stand up for what we believe in. Bullies cannot be allowed to have their own way and sometimes we have to take great risks to fight back against an oppressor.
Lovely pencil drawings show the beauty and danger that Poppy finds in her small world and they help to re-enforce the dual nature of Mother Nature.
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