by Cynthia Rylant (1996)
What do a lumbering Labrador, a wise-cracking bat, a Caribbean crab, and a squirrel mother of triplets have in common? They are the best of friends, of course! Gooseberry Park is the endearing story of true friendship and selflessness at its best. Kona, the loyal Labrador, is willing to risk it all to help his best friend Stumpy the squirrel and her new babies. His perilous journey to save the newborns is only the beginning of a string of heroic acts that show readers the true meaning of love and loyalty.
The book begins introducing us to each unique personality that will accompany us through the story. There is bumbling Professor Albert whose loneliness led to Gwendolyn the hermit crab and Kona the Labrador becoming housemates and dear friends. Kona’s frequent trips to Gooseberry Park introduce him to Stumpy the squirrel, a soon-to-be momma. Stumpy’s move to a new tree leads her to meet Murray, a compassionate friend always ready with a joke. But, this sweet, simple beginning gives way to real suspense and danger when an ice storm blows into town, toppling Stumpy’s tree. The rest of the menagerie must rally to rescue the squirrel babies and save the day.
Cynthia Rylant’s warm style seeps through a charming tale that demonstrates the importance of family – even one composed of a hodge-podge of animal species. Rylant’s rich use of language enhances the book’s style, giving poetic qualities to her sophisticated prose. Readers will love each animal character for its distinctly different, yet fundamentally familiar, personalities. Don’t miss this story of the unlikeliest friendship that risks it all. May we all hope for friends as loyal as Kona, as caring as Stumpy, as wise as Gwendolyn, and a hilarious as Murray.
This intro title is the perfect place for new read-aloud families to start, with enough support from Arthur Howard’s delightful illustrations to carry them along. And, once they have finished this charmer, they will be clamoring for more stories of perseverance, friendship, and family.