Oct 14, 2016

Trash Mountain

by Jane Yolen

This is a brief story about a young red squirrel who struggles to survive when gray squirrels kill his family (his siblings die of squirrel pox, and his parents are killed outright in an attack). Includes lots of facts about squirrels and other wildlife- some woven into the story, others presented at the chapter headings. The red squirrel is pushed out of his parents' territory and runs away- to the dump. There he meets some rough characters- rats and gulls- and finds out they're not as stupid as his parents always told him (they called those scavenging species "lowlifes"). Our red squirrel has to figure out how to keep himself fed and safe among the territories staked out in the dump, and thwart the gray squirrels who come looking for him. He makes it in the end, and I thought the part about the defunct appliances in the trash heap being used to save the day was clever.

However, I wasn't quite able to get into the story or enjoy it. Some things were odd- the squirrels are ignorant about lots of things beyond the farm area they occupy- and they give descriptive names to things they don't really understand- for example cars are 'People Carriers'. Yet the red squirrel knows what trolls are from overhearing a family telling stories on their porch, and his mother keeps a photo of the Queen of England on her den wall- how could they not know what cars are, and yet recognize and revere the Queen, whom they've never even seen?? It didn't seem consistent.

Also, for a story written at a middle-grade level, there is a lot violence (although it isn't described in too much detail). The red squirrel's parents get killed, the gray squirrels try to kill him, and owl takes one of them, the squirrels and rats fight viciously, there's a lot of death. Which is to be expected in an animal story about survival, it just seemed a bit much for a book aimed at a young audience. I felt like it should have been toned down a little, or the story written with more detail for older kids.

Found browsing at the public library.

Rating: 2/5        176 pages, 2014


Thistle said...

Ugh. That's just the kind of inconsistency that drives me up a wall. If animals know about complex human things, they should darned well know about the simple everyday stuff!

Jeane said...


Jenny @ Reading the End said...

Hahaha, I don't think I can speak to the consistency thing! I was in love with these Alison Uttley books as a kid, The Little Grey Rabbit books, and I'm pretty sure they were hella inconsistent about what human things the creatures did and did not know about. (Although it's been a while since I revisited them, so maybe not!)

Jeane said...

Jenny- you know, I probably would not have noticed this at all, as a kid. But now things like that really jump out at me, especially in kids' books where I expect things to follow a pattern, or have some solid logic behind it.