Tell Me a Story: How the Bushybasket Squirrels Saved the Whole Entire World

Posted on April 16, 2010 by

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My favorite kind of literature is children’s literature. That is, good stories, written for children. The terrific thing about this sort of literature is that if, as C.S. Lewis said, it’s good when you’re six, it’s still good when you’re sixty. These were the kinds of stories that I read during my formative years. Granted, it may or may not have been always wholesome; still the influence on the way I think and write and the kind of stories that I like are lasting results. So it’s only natural I’d write something like that myself.

Currently, one of the books I am editing for publication is, “How the Bushybasket Squireels Saved the Whole, Entire World – And Other Forest Tales.” It’s a long title, which I suppose goes a little bit with the genre. It’s actually a collection of bedtime stories, meant to be read by parents to their kids. Most of them are about the heroic Ranalph the Badger and his friend Jigfoot the Hare, and are actually fairly serious as stories go. Ranalph and Jigfoot face moral dilemmas and do heroic things and fight with evil snakes and foxes and stoats and bobcats, and generally have a rollicking time. But I think my favorite story is that about the titular Bushybasket squirrels, and it’s from that that I have decided to include a sample. I think it captures the style and flavor of the whole book, and anyway, I like it very much.

The setting is that the peaceful forest has been turned on its head by the incursion of a whole noisy, fingery tribe of marmosets, and business as usual has been completely disrupted. While the wise, mysterious, and beautiful Bushybasket squirrels are trying to come up with a way to drive them out (though most definitely not by thumb-wrestling them), their cousin Beechly Fiskyfritter is forming some plans of his own, with the help of Pundarakim the Black Panther who has come up from the Rainy Forest in search of marmosets – tasty little marmosets…

There’s a lot of Kipling, here, a good bit of Lewis, and maybe even a dash of Winnie The Pooh. I hope you enjoy.

Now the Bushybasket Squirrels had a cousin, less high and mysterious and wonderfully wise, but very resourceful and remarkably quick on his feet. His name was Beechly Fiskyfritter, and he was rather peculiar as squirrels go. For starters, he lived in a hole in the ground (which his cousins the Bushybaskets found to be most distasteful), and spent most of his time alone, instead of off with the other squirrels (which his cousins the Bushybaskets found to be most peculiar), and his tail was noticeably truncated and lacked something in the way of fluff (which his cousin the Bushybaskets found to be most humiliating). Still, when he was inclined to socialize he could be great fun at squirrel parties, and he was also rumored to be fabulously rich. Indeed, the nut-hoard of Beechly Fiskyfritter is legendary among all of the squirrel tribe even unto this day – so the Bushybaskets tolerated him.

Well, this Beechly Fiskyfritter was scurrying along on the forest floor one day, when he chanced to meet Pundarakim the Black Panther making her way along the Forest Road. Beechly was the first creature Pundarakim had met since she had come to the Forest (most of the animals were keeping to their homes on account of the Marmosets), and she greeted him in the cordial panther way – which is to pin someone down with your enormous panther paw to get their attention.

“I am Pundarakim the Black Panther,” she growled. “What are you?”

“Why, I’m a squirrel,” Beechly wheezed. Beechly knew it was impolite to wheeze to people you have never met before, but he really couldn’t help it, for Pundarakim paw really was very heavy. “My name is Beechly Fiskyfritter.”

“A squirrel, eh?” Pundarakim the Black Panther, for all of her pantherly wisdom, (and panthers are very wise) had never heard of a squirrel before. “Are squirrels good to eat?”

“Alas, not the ground-dwelling sort – which I am,” Beechly wheezed again. It was true enough, for Beechly had never much cared for the taste of squirrel.

“It is too bad,” Pundarakim growled again, “for I have not eaten for a long while. I have come across the wide plains from the great wet and buggy forest that is to the south, looking for something tasty.”

“Anything in particular in mind?” asked Beechly cautiously.

“Marmoset,” said Pundarakim the Black Panther. “Marmoset. Have you got any marmosets in these parts? I heard that Callithrix brought his whole bunch up.”

Beechly Fiskyfritter wheezed, and thought, and wheezed again. He was, as has already been said, very resourceful. He began to form a plan in his mind, that might rid the Forest once and for all both of Callithrix and his Marmosets (of whom Beechly was just as tired as the rest of the forest), and of Pundarakim the Black Panther – the latter of whom had a very weighty paw indeed.

“I say,” said Beechly suddenly. “But we certainly do – and it’s really such a shame, too… Think of all that tasty marmoset going to waste.”

Pundarakim removed her paw and lay down beside Beechly. Satisfied that she had the little squirrel’s attention, she unsheathed her enormous claws and began to sharpen them. “What do you mean? Going to waste?”

“Aye, it’s a shame. A horrible shame,” he repeated carelessly, retrieving a nut from somewhere in his cheek and cracking it open with his teeth.

“What?” she asked. “What is the matter?”

“Oh, it’s just that I’m afraid marmoset spoils in this climate.” Beechly Fiskyfritter looked as though it really pained him to tell her.

“Oh? Does it?”

“Aye. It gets very stiff and unpleasant to eat.”

“You don’t say?” Clearly Pundarakim the Black Panther was somewhat dubious. “How would you know?”

“The marmoset chaps told me themselves, just the other day, when they came to trade for nuts. One of them looked me square in the eye and said to me, ‘Beechly, old chap,’ he says, ‘I’m feeling awfully stiff and unpleasant.’ ‘Well,’ says I, ‘It’s on account of the cool weather.’”

“Yes, I’ve noticed it is cooler here.” Pundarakim wrinkled her pantherly brow in a frown. “And it makes them tough and unpleasant to eat, you say?”

“Aye, very much so,” Beechly nodded. “And just wait till the winter comes.”

“Why, what’s winter?” Pundarakim the Black Panther, for all of her pantherly wisdom (and Panthers are very wise) had never heard of winter.

“Ah – it’s a time when things get very cold here. Don’t you have winter where you come from?”

“No,” she said. “We only have two seasons – the rainy season, and the slightly-less-rainy season.”

“In the winter time everything and everybody gets awfully stiff and cold here in the Forest. Even the water gets so stiff and so cold it stops bothering to flow altogether and gets hard enough to walk across.”

“Now that sounds horribly unpleasant. But oh! You can see I am in a bit of a bind now. I’ve come all of this way and haven’t anything tasty to eat.”

“You might go back to the Wet Forest,” Beechly ventured.

“That’s no good – the only things to eat there are turtles and armadillos and tapirs, and I’ve had quite enough of them.”

“You might take the Marmosets back with you to the Wet Forest,” Beechly ventured.

That would be good – but how?”

“Come,” said Beechly. “I’ll tell you my plan. If you’re game for it, I expect you shall be headed back to the Wet Forest with a whole tribe of marmosets very, very soon.”

And so Pundarakim the Black Panther agreed, and Beechly Fiskyfritter climbed up on her shoulder and whispered into her pantherly ear.

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Posted in: storytelling