September 14, 2018

Fox and Squirrel Help Out

Written and illustrated by Ruth Ohi
North Winds Press (Scholastic Canada)
32 pp.
Ages 2-7
August 2018

Teaching young children about empathy is not always easy because our expectations of when they should express empathy does not always jive with their feelings that empathy is necessitated. Programs like Roots of Empathy–a program in which babies visit classrooms so that students might develop their own emotional literacy–work well because children have a natural empathy for babies and those smaller and more vulnerable than themselves. That's why Ruth Ohi's latest picture book, Fox and Squirrel Help Out, her fourth Fox and Squirrel book, provides a literary model for teaching empathy while charming little ones with the honest and endearing friendship of two special friends.

From Fox and Squirrel Help Out by Ruth Ohi
When something falls onto Fox's head, squeaking frantically and loudly, the two friends are flummoxed as to how to help the little creature. Though Fox sees beyond the noise and delights in the bat's warmth and softness, he recognizes the need to appease Squeak. Like a parent or babysitter trying to calm a restless baby, Fox and Squirrel try food and entertainment but it's only when Fox rocks back and forth on one leg that the little guy is calmed and comforted.
From Fox and Squirrel Help Out by Ruth Ohi
Squirrel may be a little disgruntled because Fox insists on focusing on Squeak's needs but it's upon Squirrel's head that Squeak finds the coziness necessary for sleep. But that's only before his real family comes looking for him and Fox and Squirrel must say goodbye.

I know that everyone thinks they can write a picture book but they can't. I get a lot of picture books for review by writers who have not learned what it takes to make one great. Ruth Ohi knows how to do it right, with each and every book she creates. (Check out Kenta and the Big Wave and Shh! My Brother's Napping as two important examples of her work.) Fox and Squirrel Help Out checks off all the boxes: it tells a charming story, with simple but impactful text, which is enhanced with unique illustrations that tell more about the characters and their motivations than the words alone. Ruth Ohi's artistic style which blends daintiness with cartoons invites readers in to her scenes. (Has anyone ever thought of how awesome stuffies of Fox and Squirrel would be?)
From Fox and Squirrel Help Out by Ruth Ohi
I could tell you that Fox and Squirrel Help Out has an important message about the empathy needed to "babysit" a young one who is away from its own family, but anyone who reads the story will get it. The book doesn't preach or need to in order to impress lessons upon the reader.  What is does do is share an anecdote of two friends spending time with another who needs their help. Sure there's acceptance of differences and appreciation of diversity of needs–Squirrel's attempts at entertaining, while adorable, just don't cut it with Squeak– but it's the two friends working together that continues to create the intimacy necessary to speak to children, here helping young ones see that they have the capacity to make things right in the world just on their own scale. It would appear that Fox and Squirrel Help Out more than just a young bat.

If you head to author-illustrator Ruth Ohi's website at, you can get a variety of Fox and Squirrel activities, including bookmarks, cut-outs for stick puppets, etc. for Fox and Squirrel Help Out, as well as the other three books in the series.

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