The story starts innocently enough with Violet the dog losing her tennis ball down a prairie dog hole. The ball bounces and rolls to a stop at the bottom of the tunnel in front of a group of confused prairie dogs. Big Bark, the bully prairie dog, immediately tries to take control of the situation. However, once little Pip Squeak snags some of the yellow tennis ball fuzz and uses it to decorate himself, all the the prairie dogs want in on the fuzz. The "Fuzz" party is on and everyone is loving the bright yellow stuff.
That is until "They picked and pruned and pulled and pinched. They pinched and pulled and pruned and picked. Until...the fuzz ran out. That big round thing was fuzzless. Naked as a plucked chicken." Then the "Fuzz Frenzy" truly begins as every prairie dog fends for himself to GET SOME FUZZ!!! Finally exhaustion overcomes the frenzy and all the dogs succumb to sleep. When they awake, all the fuzz is gone! As they frantically blame each other for taking the fuzz, they hear and see Big Bark yelling at the top of tunnel covered in yellow stuff, "I'm king of the fuzz! he snarled. Do you hear me? I'm king of the --" Suddenly an unexpected surprise occurs and the prairie dogs learn that they need to work together in order to survive.
Susan Stevens Crummel does a marvelous job with the illustrations in this story. While I researched how she had created the cute prairie dogs and their unusual home, I never found any more information than this review stated:
"The marvelously rendered mixed-media illustrations, with vivid blues, earthy browns, and that luminescent green, capture the true fuzzy nature and greenish glow of the ball. As in the author's popular Tops and Bottoms (Harcourt, 1995), this book employs both horizontal and vertical spreads, effectively taking readers deep into the underground realm."
The illustrations have a softness that is similar to the use of watercolors, but they have slightly more detail than you usually see with the medium. The book is slightly over sized and the pictures spread all the way across each page so you imagine that they continue endlessly. The pages where the tennis ball bounces down the prairie dog tunnel is a vertical tri-fold so that you can see all of the "Boinks!', "Rumples!", "Hops!' and "Thumps! as it moves through the tunnel. Even though the dirt of the tunnels is dark brown you can still see the imagines of the other creatures that might inhabit the dirt. There are the outlines of ants, worms, grubs, and larva. The illustrations combined with their human characteristics help you connect with the prairie dogs. You cheer when they work together to save another colony member, and feel happy when even the hardest to love gets his deserved recognition.
This is a great story to use as a mentor text for predictions or for author's purpose. Even the youngest reader will enjoy "predicting" what is going to happen to Big Bark. They will also understand that everyone has an important role in the group. I highly recommend this book for your classroom!