Lexi's Tale by Johanna Hurwitz, illustrated by Patience Brewster 108pp, RL 3

Lexi's Tale by Johanna Hurwitz, with illustrations that I wish there were more of by Patience Brewster, is one of those rare books that comes in around 100 pages and is written at a third grade reading level. As the second in the Park Pals Adventures series, Lexi's Tale is narrated by Lexington, the helpful, street-smart squirrel from Pee-Wee's Tale who always has an idiom from the world of squirrels, passed down by his mother, to help guide his actions.

All the squirrels in Central Park have been named after nearby streets. Some are lucky enough to have names like Madison and Amsterdam, others are given names like Lexi's sisters - Sixty-one, Sixty-two and Sixty-three. And, of course, there's Uncle Ninety-nine, who thinks of nothing but eating. The dilemma Lexi faces in the book is whether to help Pee-Wee, the guinea pig narrator of the first book in the series, Pee-Wee's Tale, or to heed his mother's warning: Stick out your tail and you're bound to fail. Lexi's choices get him tangled up with a man who seems to be homeless, a lost wallet and a police car while all the time he is trying to get in practice for the Squirrel Circus, a grand event at which squirrels from the far edges of the park, as well as other parks, congregate on the night of the full strawberry moon at the stroke of ten to show off their talents and then partake of a grand feast.

As a narrator, Lexi can seem a bit rigid and unfriendly, but, as he says, squirrels are very independent creatures, keeping to themselves most of the time. Lexi obviously feels a sense of duty toward Pee-Wee, the helpless house pet now living in the wilds of Central Park, but he also seems frequently frustrated by Pee-Wee and his earthbound state as well as his willingness to interact with humans. After all, Pee-Wee was once a beloved pet. Lexi eventually allows himself to become involved with the man who speaks the strange language because he is trusted and befriended by Pee-Wee, who was rescued from the jaws of an unleashed dog by the strange man. When the man's problems are sorted out and he leaves the park, Pee-Wee is bereft and Lexi realizes this. He tells Pee-Wee he will try to spend more time on the ground with him but he knows that this is an empty promise. However, the return of the strange man brings a nice twist to the story and also allows Lexi to shine in the branches and on the ground and sets up the next book in the series, Pee-Wee and Plush.

Here are a few of the brilliant aphorisms Lexi's mother passed on to him:

Even a bad tree can grow a good nut.
Go dig for nuts, don't dig for trouble
Stick out your tail and you're bound to fail
One nut is better than a thousand shells
A variety among nuts helps avoid life's ruts.
Out of the hole and into the dirt

Readers who liked this book might try:

The Mouse of Amherst by Elizabeth Spires, illustrated by Claire A Nivola
Rabbit Hill, story and pictures by Robert Lawson
The Bookstore Mouse, by Peggy Christian, illustrated by Gary Lippincott
The Bat Poet, by Randall Jarrell, illustrations by Maurice Sendak
Abel's Island story and pictures by William Steig

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