Ereth, the prickly old porcupine, is having a dreadful birthday. Not even his beloved friend, the deer mouse Poppy, remembers the occasion. Jellied walrus warts! If he wants a birthday present he'll have to get it for himself.
Traveling deep into Dimwood forest in pursuit of salt, Ereth comes upon a dying mother fox, who begs him to take care of her three children. Agreeing, Ereth becomes foster father to three boisterous young fox kits.
With Marty, a vicious fisher, stalking him, and the kits' father determined to show Ereth who is the real boss, the old porcupine is in for the challenge of his life.
I've read the Dimwood Forest series for eight summers, and the books never grow old. Ereth's Birthday is a delightful story full of adventure, the meaning of compassion, and the qualities of bravery and self-denial. Ereth sets out with one thing on his mind---satisfying his own need for salt, his favorite food---and ends the story with a heart full of caring for the fox kits under his sometimes grumpy, but always humorous, eye. The fox kits each have their own personality, from spunky Nimble, to shy Flip, to sassy and occasionally disobedient Tumble. Marty the Fisher is the typical lurking enemy, but the book keeps the suspense that Ereth will triumph in the end.
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- Reading Age: 8+
- Reading Aloud Age: Possibly 7+
Marty the Fisher's entire goal throughout the book is to stalk down Ereth, kill, and eat him. Although the book does not go into any graphic detail about his intents, Marty thinks of attacking Ereth when he's vulnerable—on his soft underbelly—and lurks from tree to tree. He encourages Bounder, the fox kits' father, to aid in his plot to separate Ereth from any other animal so Marty can get Ereth alone to attack him. At the end of the book, Ereth and Marty get into a fight in which Marty scratches Ereth's stomach, Ereth attacks Marty with his tail and quills, and the fox kits bite and scratch Marty. Marty is trapped in a metal cage and cannot escape before humans retrieve him, implying that he'll go to a zoo instead of being killed.
Ereth encounters a dying fox with its paw caught in a metal trap. The chapter describes how it "crushed the fox's paw, biting savagely through fur, flesh, muscles and tendons. All were exposed. The amount of blood that lay about suggested the fox had been trapped for a long time...", and lists the painful conversation between the fox and Ereth as it struggles to talk before it dies. Humans are often viewed negatively as they are the ones setting out the animal traps and killing the animals within them. Ereth breaks the news of the fox mother's death to the distraught fox pups.
Several times the foxs break out in anger against Ereth's commands. Once they disobey his words to keep their cave clean, and one fox deliberately disobeys him by going out into the snow where traps have been set out. Ereth uses non swear-words frequently throughout the book, such as 'sentimental slip-slop', 'lungfish loogies', 'jerks', 'boiled badger boogers', and 'wallaby wax', among other things. Often he lets his frustration out at the kits.
Scary illustrations include the dying fox with its paw in a metal trap, Marty lurking over Ereth from a tree, and humans retrieving traps.