Harper Collins, 1995 161 pgs.
The Poppy Stories series
Poppy is a little field mouse who lives with her family in an abandoned house in Dimwood Forest. The forest is ruled by Mr. Ocax, an owl whom the mice must ask permission before moving freely through the forest. One fateful night Poppy and her bold boyfriend Rye venture to the top of the hill to dance in the moonlight without first asking Mr. Ocax. The intolerant predator swoops down and consumes Rye. Poppy manages to escape. Upon returning home her family is shocked by both the death of Rye and the lack of permission asked and granted, but a bigger problem looms. The abandoned house in which the mice reside is getting too cramped and cannot support their growing family. Poppy's father hears of a new house across the forest. When permission is asked of Mr. Ocax to cross the forest it is denied. Poppy takes it upon herself to cross the dangerous forest to explore the new house. On route the brave mouse encounters many dangers, including almost drowning and many near escapes from the dreaded owl. While hiding in a hollow log, Poppy meets a much feared porcupine named Ereth. Poppy has been raised to fear porcupines, a fear propelled by Mr. Ocax, but Ereth becomes a friend and agrees to lead Poppy to the new house. Once there Poppy sees that the home is perfect and realizes exactly why Mr. Ocax doesn't want the mice to journey to this place and encounters and owl's greatest fear. A final battle ensues between Poppy and Mr. Ocax, after which one warrior does not survive.
I have rediscovered Poppy after selecting it for my December book discussion group for third and fourth grade. What a great book! Avi isn't considered one of the best writers for children for nothing. This is an enjoyable and exciting animal fantasy totally perfect for the target audience. Reading Poppy is like being wrapped up in a blanket. It is a traditional tale reminiscent of Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nihm or the Redwall series (although for a younger audience) and has a timeless quality to it. The book is a proper length for the audience and generous illustrations contributed by Caldecott winner Brian Floca add entertainment and help to break up the text. Poppy grows from a timid mouse to a brave and independent thinker. She discovers that the world is not what she thought it was and finds the courage to unravel the truth. Children will be inspired to tackle their own fears, learn to overcome preconceived notions, have the courage to not follow the crowd, and face the bully in their own lives. Poppy may be a mouse in a forest, but her plight is universal and will offer kids courage and comfort. Besides this, the story is fun and adventurous. Several plot twists will encourage children to keep turning pages, as will several battle scenes. The characters, although animals, are fully developed, interesting, and relatable. Good overcomes evil and all ends as it should in DImwood Forest, all while leaving room for the next installment in the series.