For Ages
8 to 12

Meet Toaff: a lovable squirrel, and new standout character, searching for a place to call home in this gem of a story by a Newbery Medal-winning author.

Toaff is a small squirrel full of big questions. Why must I stay away from the human's house? Why shouldn't I go beyond the pine trees? Why do we fight with the red squirrels across the drive? His sister shrugs--that's just the way things are. His brother bullies--because I said so. And the older squirrels scold--too many questions! Can Toaff really be the only one to wonder why?

When a winter storm separates him from his family, Toaff must make his own way in the world. It's a world filled with danger--from foxes and hawks and cats to cars and chainsaws. But also filled with delight--the dizzying scent of apple blossoms, the silvery sound of singing, the joy of leaping so far you're practically flying. Over the course of a year, Toaff will move into (and out of) many different dreys and dens, make some very surprising friends (and a few enemies), and begin to answer his biggest questions--what do I believe and where do I belong?

Master storyteller Cynthia Voigt offers readers a rich and rewarding story of finding one's way in the world.

An Excerpt fromToaff's Way

What if I--?
He leaped. Off the horse chestnut branch and out, into empty air. Gray clouds hung over him, white snow shone below, and it was . . . He thought his chest would burst with it.
Then he landed on a maple branch that sank gently under him. His bushy tail gave him balance. His sharp nails gripped and he ran toward the trunk, where he sat up on his haunches and whuffled. He hadn’t known he could do that. Nobody had told him. The pride of it, and the surprise . . . And there was a climb to come, climb up or climb down, whichever he wanted. . . . Sometimes everything was so wonderful that all you could do was whuffle.
A crow burst out from the top of the maple. The bird entered the sky on widespread wings, screeching, kaah-kaah. Talking to me? Toaff wondered. But what would a crow say to a squirrel? Maybe Good leap! Or Get back where you belong! Or could it be saying Follow me! as it floated over the pasture toward the woods beyond? Toaff had asked his mother what the crows were saying and she had told him, “They’re warning us.”
“Why?” he had wondered, and she had said, “Crows take care of gray squirrels.”
“Why?” Toaff had wondered, and “They want to,” she’d answered, so “How do you know?” he asked, but she just sniffed.
Sometimes Toaff wondered if he was the only squirrel on the whole farm who had questions. He hoped he wasn’t.
He watched the crow out of sight before he circled up the maple’s trunk, careful to leave a few branches over his head. Everybody said that hawks and eagles and ospreys were always on the hunt, especially on a winter day. No squirrel left himself exposed to danger from above. No squirrel who hoped to live another day.
Toaff hoped to live a lot of another days.
From high up he could see the two long lines of bare-branched maples, marking the sides of the snowy drive. Those maples would make two pathways a squirrel could travel along. They even offered a couple of long-branched connections where a squirrel could cross from one side of the drive to the other, without having to touch the ground. The drive was perilous for squirrels because of the machines, machines that carried humans around and crushed a squirrel without even noticing what they were doing.
No one in Toaff’s den left their side of the drive, where their dead pine stood beside two young firs at the edge of a pasture, near to a stone wall and a safe distance from any machine. No one crossed the drive to the woods that grew over there. Everyone knew that their side of the drive was the best place to forage, and the big hollow deep in the dead pine was the best place to have their nests. Their pine had died a long time ago and bugs had burrowed into the soft places where branches had broken off; then woodpeckers had hunted for those bugs, drilling into the wood; and after that, squirrels finished the job of turning the hollow spaces into one large cavern. When Toaff asked his mother, “What’s a woodpecker?” she said it was a bird. “Like a crow?” he asked, and Braff said, “Not a bit,” as if Braff already knew everything and Toaff didn’t know anything.
Braff had never been this far from their dead pine, so Toaff thought he would go a little farther. Whuffling with nervousness and excitement, he made his way down the line of maples. At the fourth tree, where the stone wall separated their pasture from the woods beyond, he saw a long branch that stretched out across the drive meet a maple branch from the other side. What if I--?
He leaped.
Once across, he sat up on a branch, entirely on alert. He sniffed the cold air and listened. Were those voices? Was that squirrels talking?
Toaff couldn’t see even a shadow moving. But it sounded as if the voices were coming closer, so he ran down the maple trunk to meet them. But these squirrel voices were filled with slow churring sounds, not at all like the quick chuk-chukkings in his own den, and they were quarreling.
“Did you see him?” asked an excited voice.
“I saw it first!”
“I got it first!”
“You’re a thief!”
“You stole mine yesterday!”
“Did you see how far he jumped?” the excited voice asked.
Toaff stepped forward to greet them and from then on things happened too fast:
Toaff saw a squirrel who didn’t have a familiar fat, furry gray shape. This squirrel was small and rusty red. Bright white circles ringed his eyes. Toaff had never seen any squirrel who looked like that, but, he reminded himself, he hadn’t been alive very long and there was a lot he hadn’t seen. He could tell by the head and tail that this couldn’t be anything other than a squirrel, so he decided not to be afraid.
The wild-eyed little red squirrel sat up on his haunches to stare at Toaff. “I saw you!” he said, in that excited voice. “Leaping! It was . . . Can you do it again?”
Before Toaff could answer, other voices broke in, voices as ugly and angry as voices full of soft churring sounds can be. More small red squirrels, too many of them, rushed at him. They held their tails stiff and high and they snarled, “Get out! Get out--now!”
“He was flying!” the first little squirrel said. “Didn’t you see?” and Toaff thought that flying was a word that soared up and out and across.
“That’s exact--” he started to agree.
“We’ll bite!” cried the other red squirrels. “We’ve got teeth! We bite!” they shouted. “Get away! You better get away from us!” They closed in on him, in a crowd, and bared their teeth.
Toaff ran. That was all he could do. They were squirrels and could climb right up a tree after him. All he could do was run. If he could just get across the drive . . . He ran out onto the packed snow.
A loud, grinding machine sound drowned out the snarling voices. Out of the corner of his eye, Toaff saw a machine rushing at him. It came so fast he knew he would never make it to the other side. He spun around to retreat, but that was where all those red squirrels were, and besides, the machine was too close. He knew it. He did the one thing he could do: He dashed ahead of the machine, up the drive, turning so fast he barely had time to breathe. If he could get far enough ahead, he could swerve away to the other side. He had no other chance, he knew.
Toaff ran, and the machine was right behind him, and he didn’t even dare to turn his head to see if he was drawing ahead, it was so close, and so loud, and it was hard enough trying to gasp in air. . . .
He was at the end of his strength. He knew it. He couldn’t lift his paws for one more step. The machine was going to roll over him, and crush him, and he would be dead. There was no way to avoid it. He stopped running and curled up, his fat tail wrapped around him as if he was in his nest about to go to sleep instead of lying in snow right in the middle of the drive, waiting for a machine to kill him.
The machine roared--was it glad?--so loudly that all the air around Toaff jammed into his ears and he couldn’t hear anything. He squeezed his eyes shut and the air of the machine rushed at him, and all over him. Then it was gone and the machine’s roar was moving away along the drive.
Toaff uncurled his tail and dashed to his own side of the drive to hide behind a tree before the machine could come after him again. Too weak to climb, he huddled against the trunk to catch his breath, to stop his shaking, to try to understand what had happened.
Because nothing had happened. Nothing at all.
But that was impossible. He couldn’t think, for all the fear still skittering around inside his head, and maybe he saw red squirrels moving in the shadowy woods, across the drive--
Toaff fled. 

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