This juvenile chapter book is about a red squirrel in England. Nutley lives in a fir tree with his mum and dad until he tries to make friends with the grey squirrels (who are an invasive species). It ends in disaster with his parents deaths and Nutley must find a new home alone in the world.
As luck would have it, he lives near a dump and there is a giant trash mountain there. First, Nutley meets a rat who shows him the boundaries of the dump like where it is safe to scrounge. Later, Nutley helps a sea gull who is entangled in fishing line. This kind act on Nutley's part begins and very good friendship as the sea gull helps Nutley in many ways with food, shelter, and ultimately, in defeating the grey squirrels. I love the ethical considerations that Yolen puts into Nutley's decision to help a stranger. Page 71 ..."I couldn't help my parents. I was too young, too small. How can I possibly help a stranger?"
and "Was not doing something that leads to a death the same as doing it?"
These are ideas that not too early for kids to think about. The story is not just the cutesy squirrel tale that I had expected. The philosophy in it is great. There is cause and effect, there is a right thing to do, and it is okay to help others even when they are not like you.
Each chapter ends with a "Know this..." factoid about squirrels. An extra bonus for the book. (and the line drawings of Nutley are super cute.)