Pee-Wee's Tale by Johanna Hurwitz, illustrated by Patience Brewer 102 pp RL 3

Pee-Wee's Tale is the first in what is currently the Park Pals Trilogy by Johanna Hurwitz and it is an excellent start for readers who are just beginning to dive into the world of chapter books. It is also just a really great book with an animal as the narrator. Pee-Wee begins his story with his birth in a pet store. His mother was born in a classroom and learned to read along with the students, picking it up more quickly than most, she notes with pride. When Pee-Wee expresses a curiosity towards the squiggles on the newsprint that lines their cage his mother gladly teaches him to read. Shortly thereafter, Pee-Wee is purchased and given as a birthday gift to Robbie by his uncle. Robbie's mother is beside herself and cannot fathom why her brother would give Robbie a rodent when he knows she hates mice. Hoping for a dog, Robbie learns to love his guinea pig, talking to him, playing with him, looking out the window at the park across the street with him and even combing him. Despite this, his mother cannot tolerate Pee-Wee's presence in her house and convinces her husband to set the guinea pig loose in the park and this is where Pee-Wee's adventure begins.

Pee-Wee has no idea what is what in the outside world, having lived in a cage inside a building all his life. He doesn't know what trees are, what apples are, even what dirt is. Luckily for him, he is quickly befriended by Lexington, the squirrel, who's whole family is named after the streets surrounding the park, including just numbers for names. Lexi saves Pee-Wee from a dog within minutes of meeting him but, more importantly, he helps Pee-Wee to find food and begin his search for Robbie. Pee-Wee learns to survive in the wild with help from Lexi, who spends his spare time traveling all over the park looking for a boy who fits Robbie's description. But, just before he sets of he finds a newspaper with an article about the new playground about to be built in the park - right where Lexi's tree home and his store of nuts is. Torn between warning his new friend and finding his old, Pee-Wee sets of across the park. On the way he is picked up by a boy, whom he is forced to bite as a means of escape, encounters a raccoon who would eat Pee-Wee if he realized what he was, and picked up by a bird, whom he is also forced to bite. Pee-Wee is dropped over the lake and lands safely in the shallow water.

But, he manages to get back to Lexi and warn him of the impending construction. Lexi and his family members living nearby are able to move to new homes nearby. And, best of all, after the playground is finished Lexi spots Robbie. Pee-Wee rushes to find him and sees him sitting on a park bench talking to another boy, a dog on a leash at their feet. Convinced the dog belongs to the other boy, Pee-Wee listens to them talk and waits for the right time to run over to Robbie and avoid the dog. He hears Robbie tell the story of how he got, loved and lost Pee-Wee. How he dismantled the apartment trying to find him, scattering food pellets throughout the cracks and crevices of the apartment in case Pee-Wee was hiding and hungry. But, when Pee-Wee didn't show up he had to accept he was gone. That's when his mother said he could get a dog. When Pee-Wee hears this he knows that Robbie doesn't need him anymore and is stunned. But, as he takes a moment to reflect on what he now has, things he never even knew he wanted, "freedom and friendship."

Hurwitz does a great job telling her story from the perspective of a domestic guinea pig learning to live outdoors. And Paticence Brewster's illustrations are both detailed and gentle and only slightly anthropomorphic.

Don't miss the rest of the series: Lexi's Tale and Pee-Wee and Plush.

Readers who enjoyed this story might also like to 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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