by Philippa Pearce
Once there were two brothers who herded pigs for a living. The elder was unkind to his younger brother Jack and made him do all the work. One day after a storm Jack heard sounds in the nearby forest and investigated. He found a green man – one of the magical, feared forest people- trapped under a fallen tree and rescued him. In return for his kind deed, Jack was given a gold ring and told to put it over the forearm of an infant squirrel in the forest during springtime, then come away. Jack did as he was told and later in the autumn, he found a woman in the forest who had brown hair, wild eyes and a golden bracelet on her arm. She was the squirrel he had chosen, grown now into his promised wife.
So Jack left his brother\’s house (with half the pigs) and moved to the other side of the forest, where he lived happily for a while with his squirrel wife. She showed him the secrets of the forest, from which they both benefitted (I enjoyed this bit of nature lore). But then Jack\’s older brother, jealous and angry (at loosing the pigs, and probably his brother\’s forced labor as well) found them and incited local villagers against Jack and his forest wife. They feared her strangeness, and willing to believe the lies told, imprisoned Jack. His wife, with the help of her green people, turns back into a squirrel to rescue Jack, but then he must make a choice. Will he have his wife, or the squirrel on his shoulder? For the green people say \”fairy gifts cannot be given twice\”. I really like how the story ended. I keep thinking about it.
The illustrations by Wayne Anderson have a gentle, antique quality to them and remind me something of Tomie dePaola. My favorite page is the one that shows Jack exploring the forest in springtime, discovering many different nests and creatures living in trees before he finds a squirrel\’s nest, delightfully growing with leafy tendrils.
Rating: 4/5 32 pages, 1971