Barry Wolverton's masterful middle-grade debut, Neversink, is an epic tale of some very un-epic birds, a fast-paced and funny story of survival, friendship, and fish, in the vein of Watership Down and Kathi Appelt's The Underneath.
Along the Arctic Circle lies a small island called Neversink, home to a colony of odd-looking seabirds called auks, including one Lockley J. Puffin. With their oceanfront views and plentiful supply of fish, the auks have few concerns—few, save for Lockley's two best friends, Egbert and Ruby, a know-it-all walrus and a sharp-tongued hummingbird.
But all of this is about to change. Rozbell, the newly crowned king of the Owl Parliament, has long had his scheming eyes on the small colony to the north. Now Neversink's independence hangs in the balance. An insurgence of owls will inevitably destroy life as the auks know it—unless Lockley can do something about it.
Wolverton debuts with a whimsical fantasy that does for Arctic waterfowl what the Redwall series did for woodland creatures. When a "Sickness" threatens the food supplies of the birds of Tytonia, the scheming pygmy owl Rozbell uses the opportunity to seize control of the Owl Parliament. He then imposes a hefty tax upon the nearby island colony of Neversink, forcing the resident auks to supply him with increasing amounts of fish and other supplies. Only adventure-seeking puffin Lockley, hummingbird Ruby, and scholarly walrus Egbert are willing to take a stand for their imperiled home. Set when "umans did not yet roam the Earth, much less rule it," Wolverton's story takes place in a world in which owls wear bowler hats, walruses write multivolume history books, and puffins cook. The author is a natural storyteller, giving readers a charmingly wry, offbeat tale that draws on mythology and intersperses a good amount of information about Arctic wildlife amid the story's humor. Nielson's spot illustrations, not all seen by PW, strike just the right balance between anthropomorphism and realism. Ages 8 12.