In this spry novel, Newbery Honoree Preus deftly threads together a nature adventure, history lesson, cautionary environmental tale, and an animal love story. Jean Pierre Petit Le Rouge, a curious red squirrel, annually watches singing, fur-trading “voyageurs” canoe away from Montreal and return months later with “the scent of the faraway,” which was “a smell that stirred up in me a wanderlust.” So, in May 1792, Le Rouge stows away on a canoe bound for a trading post on Lake Superior, determined to impress the voyageurs. He scampers to the top of a tree to point the way after they lose their bearings and uses his keen senses to guide the craft through fog. Despite his close bond with a kind, bookish trapper, Le Rouge announces—in a sly riff on a passage from Thoreau’s Walden—that he is “going into the woods... to live deliberately” because the voyageurs’ mission involves profiting “from the skins of my animal brethren.” Preus wraps up her entertaining and informative narrative on a heartwarming note as the loquacious, wryly contemplative squirrel finds his way—back home and in life. Evocative pictures by Pilgrim (Big and Little) augment the story’s ample heart and humor, and an author’s note contextualizes the fur trade, including its impact on indigenous people. Ages 7–10. Author’s agent: Stephen Fraser, Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency. (Mar.)
Gr 2–5—In 1792 Quebec, an intrepid red squirrel invites himself along on a trading expedition by a group of eight white human Quebecois traders—all named Jean—known as "voyageurs." Of course, Jean Pierre Petit Le Rouge (Little Red) doesn't know the trip is ultimately about animal pelts; to him it's a chance to see more of the world as they journey northward on and off the calm Canadian waters in their birchbark canoe. Much like Jean Van Leeuwen's 1970's "Marvin the Magnificent" series, here is an irrepressibly charming and energetic furry narrator who interacts with simplistic humans on his own terms, whether or not the unimportant men understand him. Only the book-loving Jean can interpret meaning from Le Rouge's squirrel-talk, while the rest consider putting him in their ragoût…one of many French words flavoring the adventure. Three- to five-page chapters, each accompanied with one or more intricate, expressive gray pencil illustrations, break the events into perfect bedtime-chapter-sized portions. VERDICT A well-written, sweet, simple, satisfying, and good-natured animal story that sheds light on a little-explored era of history.—Rhona Campbell, Georgetown Day School, Washington, DC
Stowing away with French Canadian fur traders in 1792, a loquacious red squirrel embarks on a life-changing adventure.
Each spring, Jean Pierre Petit Le Rouge, a squirrel with wanderlust, watches brave, strong voyageurs depart in canoes from Montreal and return the following autumn. Determined to be a voyageur, Le Rouge hides in a canoe paddled by eight stout voyageurs, part of a brigade of five. Soon his incessant chattering distracts the voyageurs, who become separated from the rest of the brigade, but, after ascending the highest tree, he points the crew back on course. More than once, pesky Le Rouge barely escapes becoming squirrel ragout. He's just beginning to feel like a real voyageur when they reach the trading post on Lake Superior, where he discovers the voyageurs exchanging their cargo for animal skins to return to Montreal. Heartsick, Le Rouge decides he cannot be a voyageur if it involves trading animal skins, unless he can change things. Le Rouge relates his story with drama and flair, presenting a colorful prism through which to view the daily life of a voyageur. Peppered with historical facts and (italicized) French phrases and names, this exciting, well-documented tale (with a contemporary animal-rights subtext) proves educational and entertaining. Realistic pencil drawings highlight Le Rouge's memorable journey.
A rousing introduction to the life of a voyageur told from a unique perspective. (map, pronunciation guide, historical and biological notes, recipe, further reading) (Historical fantasy. 7-10)
"The novel bristles with details from the world of 18th-century fur trappers . . . Preus plumps up these historical facts with flesh — and leaves the reader knowing what it might feel like to be a smart, intrepid squirrel finding his way as an adventurer while standing up for his fellow creatures"—The New York Times Book Review
★ "In this spry novel, Newbery Honoree Preus deftly threads together a nature adventure, history lesson, cautionary environmental tale, and an animal love story. . . . Evocative pictures by Pilgrim (Big and Little) augment the story’s ample heart and humor, and an author’s note contextualizes the fur trade, including its impact on indigenous people." —Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
"Overall, a highly recommended, fast-moving story that will amuse, inform, and entertain young readers."—The Historical Novel Society
"Le Rouge relates his story with drama and flair, presenting a colorful prism through which to view the daily life of a voyageur. . . . A rousing introduction to the life of a voyageur told from a unique perspective."—Kirkus Reviews
"Preus' text is rich in setting detail, especially regarding the natural world that the voyageurs traverse. She also excels at integrating French vocabulary into the story and appends a pronunciation guide. Pilgrim's frequent black-and-white illustrations help to clarify details and break up the text for younger readers. . . . will please readers"—Booklist
"a boatload of information and entertainment. Softly sketched black and white illustrations, a French pronunciation guide, and historical notes are included."—The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books