Lynne Rae & Bill Perkins, December 2013
No, we are not planning a winter holiday party (yet); the photo above is just a fun one of author Lynne Rae Perkins and her husband, furniture maker Bill Perkins, taken at Dog Ears Books last year at Glenn Wolff's book signing. Note gently mischievous grin. Anyone who knows Lynne Rae Perkins or reads her blog knows how much fun this creative artist/author is. She’s also Leelanau County’s only Newbery Medal winner, having received the award in 2006 for her YA novel Criss Cross, which you can read about here.
In 2012 Lynne Rae did something new for her, illustrating a book written by another author, and we had a big book party to introduce Esme Raji Codell’s Seed by Seed: The Legend and Legacy of John “Appleseed” Chapman, a party complete with heritage apples, apple-decorated cupcakes, apple cider, and a real live apple tree that a lucky customer took home, along with signed book purchase.
Lynne Rae’s recently released new book, in my opinion, deserves an award all its own. The Newbery committee chair said the last time around, of Criss Cross, that “Perkins writes an orderly, innovative, and risk-taking book in which nothing happens and everything happens.” While it isn’t true that “nothing happens” in Nuts to You—which has lots of action and suspense and many surprises—there’s a lot more “happening” besides a plot with many twists and turns.
Chapters and pictures both
“What age would appreciate the story best?” a friend asked. I’d looked into the book enough to realize it’s what kids nowadays call a “chapter book,” and yet it also has illustrations throughout, so, based on that, I guessed middle elementary. A quick online search told me that, yes, the book is recommended for ages 8-10.
Then I started reading it.
You know how sometimes a book can be just too good for only a certain age level or even only for children? The kind of book that little kids and grownups adore equally and you feel sorry for those preteens and adolescents who will miss it because they think it isn’t grownup enough for them? That’s Nuts to You. I can already hear a little boy delighting in saying to his parents and older siblings, “Nuts to you!” and then explaining that he means it in a good way, a squirrel way! I also anticipate many adults who will begin reading the “Author’s Note,” as I did, expecting a straightforward how-I-got-the-idea-for-this-story story, and then find themselves hooting out loud with laughter at the author’s meeting with a talking squirrel—and at having a sense of fellow feeling for the squirrel.
“What I love most about peanut butter,” he said, “is how it transports me to my youth. The first taste always takes me back to the very first time I had it. For an instant, I am young again, and strong. And probably foolish.”
I didn’t care for peanut butter as a girl, but for all of us there are certain tastes that carry us back to childhood, and so the adult reader is hooked then and there.
Someone I love was slightly dubious. “You’re not an ordinary grownup,” he said (not for the first time; he says it to me often). But the next day he walked into the bookstore while I was reading a page of Nuts to You to two or three friends my age, and he laughed with delight along with them. “Is that the squirrel book you were talking about?!”
But I don’t want to quote a lot from the book or say too much about what happens in the story because every reader deserves the joy of surprise that comes with turning from one page to the next. I'll tell you that there are serious, weighty issues here, below the surface, but Perkins never lets issues overtake story: when she does turn “didactic” for a brief moment, even resorting to what would formally constitute a footnote, she does it with a gentle wink:
If someone, your teacher maybe, ever asks what “irony” or “being ironic” means, you can say it’s when a squirrel says, “our friend, the hawk,” and you will be right.
Adults who read this story to young children will take a tip, I hope, from the author and not go off on a tangent and start preaching to the kids about moral equality, fair play, race relations, natural habitat destruction, immigration, and so on. Stick with the story. It's a story of adventure and friendship. Little kids will want to hear it (and older kids read it) again and again. (Grownups, too.) The lessons will come through on their own. So will the humor.
Nuts to us all!
Book party with Lynne Rae Perkins is scheduled for Friday, September 19, from 5 to 7 p.m. If you can’t be with us that day, I’ll be happy to take your prepaid order and ship a signed book to you in the mail.