Prather’s Pick: ‘Toaff’s Way,’ a novel about a squirrel
September 20, 2018
"Toaff's Way" was written by Newbery Medalist Cynthia Voigt. The book's black-and-white illustrations were created by Sydney Hanson. This 2018 novel for young readers is published by Alfred A. Knopf.
There's one thing about this novel — the author knows a thing or two about squirrels and other animals, too.
Toaff is a small gray squirrel and the central character of the novel. He lives with his family in a dead pine tree beside two young fir trees. The trees are on a sheep farm next to a road. A young couple and their baby live in a nearby house, known as a nest-house by the squirrels. Two dogs, Sadie and Angus, live at the farm, too, plus some cats.
There is a wooded area across the road, but Toaff's family never goes there. First of all, there is enough food right where they are. Second, the road is dangerous, because of all of the machines (cars) that run up and down it.
Toaff is a bright and curious squirrel. He has all kinds of questions about the world. As the novel opens, Toaff is sitting on a branch of a horse chestnut tree. He's feeling especially adventurous that morning, so without giving it a lot of thought, he takes a leap and lands on a branch of a nearby maple tree. That answers his question about being able to leap from one branch to another.
Boy, is Toaff proud of himself. He decides to go a little farther and leaps from one maple tree to another — four of them in a row. The fourth tree has a branch that stretches across the road. Toaff leaps and lands across the road!
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He hears the quarreling voices of squirrels, and pretty soon, he gets a look at one of them. The squirrel is a rusty-red color with white circles around its eyes. Then, he sees the other squirrels. They notice Toaff, and they warn him to get out, or they will bite.
Toaff takes off running back across the road. Alas, a car is approaching and nearly runs over the squirrel. Boy, does Toaff feel weak, but he manages to get back up to his den, where he gets a good "talking to" from his mother, brother Braff, Old Criff, and others. His sister Soaff is more understanding, because she's adventurous, too. The family tells Toaff the squirrels are Churrchurrs, and they're vicious. The family hates these squirrels.
Snow is starting to fall, and Mother says there's going to be one big snowstorm. Sure enough, during the night, the old pine creaks and trembles, there's a loud noise, and the tree breaks. When Toaff wakes up the next morning, the tree is on the ground, and his family is nowhere in sight. He's alone, but he still has food and a place to sleep. There's more trouble, too, because as spring approaches, the human comes along with a machine (chainsaw), cuts the tree into pieces, and hauls them off.
Toaff faces lots of challenges but has good times, too, and he finds the answers to lots of questions.
This endearing novel is classified as "juvenile," probably middle school and above. It is shelved with new books at the Craig branch of Moffat County Libraries. It costs $16.99 in hardcover.