Thursday, July 7, 2016

Those Darn Squirrels and the Cat Next Door         

By Adam Rubin          

Illustrated by Daniel Salmieri
Published: 2011

Those Darn Squirrels and the Cat Next Door by New York Times best-selling author Adam Rubin (for Dragons Love Tacos) is part of a small series of hilarious and amusing picture books starring “Those Darn Squirrels”.  

I would use Those Darn Squirrels and the Cat Next Door in Writing Workshop for upper elementary or even middle schools writers to demonstrate the difficult craft move of narrative writing using humor.  What exactly does the author do to make one chuckle and laugh—and draw his readers deeper into the story-wanting to the pages to see what will happen next?  Those Darn Squirrels and the Cat Next Door is a complex story with several layers and it would be worth dedicated conversations to lift your students work for those who are ready to try out humor.  Adam Rubin’s use of vocabulary—and some silly, funny, made-up words—add elaboration and enhances the story and humor.

Rubin once again teams up with illustrator Daniel Salmieri,whose creative talent creates comical illustrations that help deepen the humor..and understanding, as well as enjoyment, of the story.

As a reminder—the first duty of a mentor text is to be a read-aloud!  Read this book first in the ‘immersion’ phase of your Unit of Study for your students to understand it as readers.  Then…use it as a mentor text during specific mini-lessons to emphasize your teaching point.

**As a fun fact—in the Adam Rubin interviewed listed below-he mentions that he got idea for his “Darn Squirrels” books from childhood memories of his father always trying to get rid of and chase the squirrels in their yard.  Many of us can relate to that!

Book Talk
Readers meet the main character, Old Man Fookwire, who loves and dreams about summer and warm weather. He is a terrible grump to be around most of the time. He loves summer, loves to paint and loves the birds that return in the spring.

But throughout the year, his yard is dominated by  a bunch of aggressive, smart, crafty, and mischievous squirrels who plot and plan to humorously wreck havoc in all phases Fookwire’s life.

Spring finally arrives and the birds return. Fookwire is delighted and gets out his paints and easel to paint pictures of the birds.

Some favorite lines:
Old Man Fookwire thought spring would never come. But eventually, the forest bloomed and the first birds returned from their winter vacation. Whirley birds chomped on tumbleberries. Bongo birds snacked on honey snaps. And the floogle bird ate farfle seeds until he got so full, he had to lie down. Fookwire danced through the yard with delight. He set up his easel and brushes. Then he painted the birds till he got blisters on his fingers.”

Suddenly—there is a new ‘something’ making noise. It is the town baker, Little Old Lady Hu (whom the town loves), who is moving in next door.  This would have been fine with Fookwire, who, as  grump, would not be friendly and could care less.

BUT, Little Old Lady Hu also moves in with her cat, Muffins, who is despised by the whole town. As a kind gesture to her new neighbor, Little Old Lady Hu makes a nice pie to give to Fookwire, but he is such a grump he doesn’t answer the door.  The squirrels finally get ahold of the pie and eat it all up immediately.

More favorite lines:
Little Old Lady Hu baked a tumbleberry pie.  Then she and Muffins went to say hello to their new neighbor. Fookwire despised conversation, so he hid behind the drapes. The squirrels were scared of the cat, so they hid inside the drainpipes. The birds were sure why everyone was hiding, but they stuffed themselves down the chimney just to be safe.”

In the meantime, Muffins discovers the squirrels and begins a reign of terror, playing horrible tricks on them constantly.  Muffins even interrupts Fookwire’s painting of the birds. Old Man Fookwire decides to write a letter to the mayor complaining about his neighbor.  

AND the squirrels hatch a plan of their own to get back at Muffins…and they do!

In the end, Little Old Lady Hu does make friends with the birds and the squirrels. Each week, she shares the bakery goods with her new friends. Old Man Fookwire, while not super friendly, tolerates her. 

And Muffins?  Well, after the squirrels retaliation, Muffins never comes out of the house again—to everyone’s delight!

Suggested Uses As a Mentor Text:
Book Genre: Hybrid-Realistic Fiction with Animal Story elements
Reading Workshop Strategies: Summarizing, Connecting, Synthesizing, Analyzing, Critiquing
Writing Workshop Genre and Strategies: Narrative, Elaboration, Word Choice, Boy Hook, Writing with Humor, Character Development, Grades 3-5

Daniel Salmieri website:

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