By Zachariah OHora, Dial, ages 3-5, $16.99
Picture books with hip, quirky illustrations that are not just funny but also have plenty of heart are hard to find. The stylish “My Cousin Momo” by Zachariah OHora has it all, including an eponymous hero who is quite an unusual kids’ book specimen. Momo, a portly flying squirrel with alarmingly large black saucer eyes, arrives for a visit with his cousins sporting ’70s-era, tri-colored sweatbands around his wrists and head and a vintage camera around his neck. His squirrel cousins are tiny and adorable and live in a quaint, rambling treehouse with their mother and Tyrolean-hatted father. These are just the type of squirrels you would expect to find in kid lit. Even the red mushrooms that dot their lawn exude old world charm. Along with their endearingly anthropomorphized woodland creature friends the squirrel cousins welcome Momo with good cheer, and a homemade banner that is cute enough to be listed on Etsy.
Momo, though, doesn’t do cute. But he does have a handle on weird. When his cousins suggest a game of table tennis he eats their ball — an acorn. His idea of playing superheroes involves dressing as an enormous muffin (“That doesn’t even make sense!” observes one cousin). Most disappointing of all: He doesn’t seem to want to fly on command. Cracks appear in his cousins’ sweet demeanors. Then they lose their cool: “We should have invited Stinky George instead” blurts the girl squirrel in frustration. (This is extremely hurtful to Momo, obviously, but has proven to be a popular catch phrase around my house.) Crushed, Momo weepily packs his bag, ready to flee. I never would have suspected that the sight of a crying, chubby flying squirrel could be so heartbreaking.
Luckily the squirrel children realize how much they’ve hurt their flying cousin and with their parents’ encouragement they ask to play with Momo his way. The moral of the story, of course, is not to eat more toys or dress as a giant pastry, though the squirrel cousins do these things. Their delight in Momo’s style of play gives the shy guy a boost and he takes off, surprising his hosts by showing them what they wanted to see all along when he flies off into the night,
Nicole Lamy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.