cover image Mean Margaret

Mean Margaret

Tor Seidler. HarperCollins, $15.99 (176pp) ISBN 978-0-06-205090-8

This witty novel about a cranky toddler and her adoptive parents slyly reverses the people-pets dynamic as it comments on modern relationships. The tale opens with the marriage of two loving but dissimilar woodchucks: patient Phoebe wants children, while neatnik Fred prefers a tidy burrow. A mile away lives an imperfect human family with nine kids, the last four of which are called by their numerical order of delivery. The youngest, Nine, is a terror, so her siblings dispose of her ""in a ditch,"" where her screams summon Phoebe. Phoebe names Nine ""Margaret"" (her mother's name) and takes her to the burrow, where she proceeds to destroy the furniture, shriek nonstop and force Fred and Phoebe to relocate to a cave shared by a skunk, two bats and a crotchety snake. Pooh Corner it ain't. Agee (Dmitri the Astronaut) contributes understated pen-and-ink sketches of the catastrophic scenes, while Seidler (The Wainscott Weasel) takes refreshing risks with well-trod territory. Fred and Phoebe fall in love convincingly (""as a rule, woodchuck courtships take less than an hour""), Phoebe's sister is a single mother of three, and the skunk gives Margaret a richly deserved dousing. Conventional expectations are dashed--Fred's about domestic bliss, Phoebe's about motherhood--but compromises are reached, and even feral Margaret returns to an improved home life. In an era of so many definitions of ""family,"" this perceptive story zeroes in on one model formed of cooperation and friendship. Ages 5-up. (Sept.)