Toaff's Way by Cynthia Voigt

Publisher's Synopsis: "Meet Toaff: a lovable squirrel, and new standout character, searching for a place to call home in this gem of a story by a Newbery Medal-winning author. Toaff is a small squirrel full of big questions. Why must I stay away from the human's house? Why shouldn't I go beyond the pine trees? Why do we fight with the red squirrels across the drive? His sister shrugs--that's just the way things are. His brother bullies--because I said so. And the older squirrels scold--too many questions! Can Toaff really be the only one to wonder why? When a winter storm separates him from his family, Toaff must make his own way in the world. It's a world filled with danger--from foxes and hawks and cats to cars and chainsaws. But also filled with delight--the dizzying scent of apple blossoms, the silvery sound of singing, the joy of leaping so far you're practically flying. Over the course of a year, Toaff will move into (and out of) many different dreys and dens, make some very surprising friends (and a few enemies), and begin to answer his biggest questions--what do I believe and where do I belong? Master storyteller Cynthia Voigt offers readers a rich and rewarding story of finding one's way in the world."

My Two Cents: I think maybe Kirkus reviews hit the nail on the head best when describing Toaff's Way as, "A brilliant, bushy-tailed bildungsroman." This coming-of-age story has A LOT of great stuff going for it: inviting chapter transitions, suspense, new and interesting creature characters, changing seasons to change the setting, cute little drawings, and an extremely likable protagonist. It is a super read-aloud choice for 1st - 3rd grade, but I think strong 2nd grade, and average 3rd - 4th grade readers will also enjoy this title for independent reading very much.

Animal-Tales aren't for all kids, but Toaff's Way has enough going that I think both typical animal-tale readers, along with a few new to animal-tales readers will stay with it.  Toaff's Way might be the book to get those adventure genre kids into a new genre as it has adventure and humor, done craftily subtle compared to the typical in-your-face humor attached to children's literature of late (sorry, showing my age and my reluctance to embrace all those potty-humored stories!).

My favorite part of Toaff's Way is the hidden in plain view themes on prejudice, othering, and elitism. Voigt shows absolutely no preachiness about these deep subjects; my favorite kind of non-didactic children's tale (oh, how I hate books that preach at kids!), instead making it integral to the tale itself.  Steering classroom conversations about these tough subjects would be made easy and non-threatening when led by examples of furry, little, sharp-toothed creatures instead of big, mean, orange-hued, sharp-toothed Tweeters. In fact, it would be much more effective (in my humble opinion) than trying to get young children engaged in any sort of discussion on the current political state of othering people. I believe Toaff's Way would be a great introductory story to gift students with conceptual knowledge on these difficult themes for when they are later confronted with their ugliness. That, after all, is what great children's literature does.

Genre: Animal Tale
Age: Publisher says grades 3rd - 7th, but that is really stretching it. I'd say closer to 2nd - 4th  grade
Pages: 272
Lexile: 790
ISBN: 978-1524765361 Knopf Books for Young Readers

Themes: Bravery, Self-Determination & Belief, Coming-of-Age, Prejudice, Elitism, Bias
Character Development: Toaff is what it's all about and though a few character's develop a little, this is a story all about a spirited, inquisitive, brave, and impulsive little squirrel
Plot Engagement: The chapters are short and end with either cliffhanger or foreshadowing so as to very much make the reader want to keep going.
Believability: Yep. Toaff has an excellent voice penned by a master writer
Thank You to NetGalley for my advanced digital copy and to Publisher Random House Children's for making it available there :-)

It should also be noted that Toaff's Way is part of a larger series called: The Davis Farm Books that all take place on the same farm. If a kid likes this one, they'll surely enjoy seeing some of the same characters in all three books!

 You can read more about author Cynthia Voigt on her website: HERE

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