Bird & Squirrel on Ice by James Burks is the perfect graphic novel to put in the hands of kids who think they don’t enjoy reading. This graphic novel has fast-paced action, humor and irresistible characters. While Bird & Squirrel on Ice is the companion book to Bird & Squirrel on the Run!, it differs markedly from Burks’ previous work. Bird & Squirrel on the Run! is essentially one, extended, entertaining chase scene. In contrast, Bird & Squirrel on Ice has a more complex plot that includes elements of the fantasy genre.
With Burks’ first book — Bird and Squirrel on the Run! — I was hooked from page one by the colorful, expressive characters Burks has created. Bird is constantly upbeat, happy-go-lucky and unaware of the dangers he and Squirrel encounter. In contrast, Squirrel is constantly on edge and provides the perfect foil to Bird.
In Bird and Squirrel on Ice, Bird and Squirrel are back, with their over-the-top personalities firmly in tact. Bird and Squirrel’s personalities are revealed with this early spread. We see Bird enjoying being carried along by an avalanche, unaware of the danger he and Squirrel face. Squirrel, on the other hand, is petrified. Once again in this sequel, the main humor arises from the stark contrast and amusing dialog between these two characters.
We are also introduced to a new character — Sakari. I love how Burks introduces Sakari in this spread, with an image that depicts the setting, a sequence of images depicting Sakari walking and then suddenly aware of Bird and Squirrel, and finally Bird and Squirrel crashing into the frame in a ball of snow. Sakari is the young daughter of a penguin village chief. She is wiser and braver than Bird and Squirrel. Her inclusion in this tale immediately increases the tale’s complexity. In Bird and Squirrel on Ice, “The Great Whale” has been harassing Sakari’s village. When Bird and Squirrel arrive, Sakari mistakenly identifies Bird as “The Chosen One,” a bird who legend tells will come to bring peace and prosperity to Sakari’s village. Ever-gullible Bird is happy to assume the role of “The Chosen One,” particularly when Sakari’s village treats him like royalty. However, as the story progresses, it becomes clear — to everyone except Bird — that Bird is in danger.
Recommended for: Ages 5 through 10, although sensitive younger readers may find the plot too scary. Kids who enjoy comics with humor and fast-paced action. Bird and Squirrel on Ice and Bird and Squirrel on the Run are likely to win over some reluctant readers as well.
A Few Questions for James Burks
Since first seeing Bird and Squirrel on Ice, I, for one, have not stopped wondering whether any more Bird and Squirrel books are in the works. I decided to go straight to the source and ask creator James Burks. While I was at it, I could not resist asking him which comics have influenced him and which comics he would recommend I share with my 4th and 5th grade Comics Club students.
Are you planning to write any more Bird & Squirrel books?
There will be two more Bird and Squirrel books. I’m coloring book 3 right now. It will be out towards the end of this year. It’s called “Bird and Squirrel on the Edge.” Then book 4 will be out towards the end of 2016. I don’t have a title for that one yet.
What are you working on now?
I’m currently working on a few things. I’m illustrating a new series for Scholastic/Branches called “Haggis and Tank Unleashed.” They’re early chapter books that follow the adventures of a Scottish Terrier and a Great Dane. I’m also coloring the third Bird and Squirrel book as I mentioned above. And last but not least I’m working on my next picture book that I wrote and illustrated for Disney/Hyperion called “Pigs and a Blanket”. Also, my very first graphic novel “Gabby and Gator” is coming out at the end of February in paperback. It features some new flippable animation of “Gabby and Gator” in the bottom right hand corner.
Which comics have influenced you?
I was really influenced by Charles Schulz’s Peanuts. I really love the early strips. They’re so clearly staged with such a great cast of characters. Calvin and Hobbes was also a big influence. Bill Watterson has an amazing ability to capture emotions and bring life to his work. Which is always something I try to do with my books.
I will be leading a comics club for 4th and 5th graders this spring. What is one comic book (aside from your own) that you would have them read? Why?
I really love the Hilda books. Written by Luke Pearson and published by Flying Eye Books. There are four books so far. All of them are great in my opinion. They’re larger size and the artwork looks amazing. They center around a little girl named Hilda and her adventures in a whimsical world filled with giants, trolls, fairies and more. Book 1 is called “Hilda and the Troll”, book 2 is called “Hilda and the Midnight Giant”, book 3 is called “Hilda and the Bird Parade”, and the most recent one is called “Hilda and the Black Hound”. I believe they were originally published in the UK. They’re beautiful books.