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Dianne Salerni : Writer of Teen and Middle Grade Fiction | First Impressions: NINJA SQUIRRELS OF THE ONE HUNDRED ACRE WOOD


MikeHays_photo2Our second First Impressions post comes from Mike Hays. It is titled NINJA SQUIRRELS OF THE ONE HUNDRED ACRE WOOD, and it’s a MG re-imagining of the world of Pooh.


“The reputation of a thousand years may be determined by the conduct of one hour.”

-Japanese Proverb

I. The Wood, Bees, and a Bear

     It was one of those beautiful days when all seems good in the world. The sun filtered through the trees and, in the open meadow, the rays danced along the waves of grass. Two black squirrels ran down a gravel bank toward a lazy creek, one chasing after the other. The leader’s tail swished and bounced in the bright sunshine as it bounded to the edge of the creek and jumped to a gray stone several feet off the bank. The squirrel hopped from stone to stone over the water until it reached the other side.

The second squirrel followed across the smooth stones of the creek bed and onto the opposite shore, where both squirrels raced toward a thick wood. They spiraled up a tree trunk and jumped to a branch of the adjoining tree, racing in the branches across the canopy. The second squirrel matched each twist, turn, and leap with near perfect precision. From tree to tree, they moved with grace and ease until they reached the last tree at the edge of the wood.

The first squirrel dove down the trunk and bounded into an open field of tall grass. It stopped just past the edge of the tree’s shadow line and hid in the thick, deep grass. As the bushy black tail disappeared into the grass, its black head popped up and scanned the open ground. The squirrel looked across the meadow at a grove of pine trees with a single oak tree in the middle. The second squirrel move alongside.

“By the way, I’m Konran, Kon to my friends,” the lead squirrel said, swinging its tail around and tapping the other squirrel on the shoulder.

The second squirrel repeated the tail tap. “I’m Kuji.”

Kon looked Kuji up and down. “Master Jonin says you’re the one,” he said with a wary look.

Kuji shrugged. “I don’t know nothing about any of that. This is where I was told to go at the Academy. ‘Meet a black squirrel at the creek crossing around midday’ was all they told me.” He looked toward the pine grove. “Is that it?” he asked.

Kon nodded his head. “Yep, that’s it, headquarters. Kuji, welcome to the One Hundred Acre Wood.”


“Better close that mouth of yours before a bug flies in there.” Kon jumped into the grass and bounced in the direction of the pine trees. “Race you there!”

“Hey! Wait!” Kuji yelled, chasing across the deep grass. “I have no idea where I’m going.”


I love the description of the squirrels chasing. It’s very visual and, at first, resembles the squirrel-play we’ve all seen. However, I get a sense there’s something more to it when the second squirrel matches each turn and twist of the first one precisely. I’d like to see that aspect played up more. I wonder if — without getting into the thoughts of Kon and Kuji just yet — Mike can suggest a hint of pride in the second squirrel’s perfect imitation. Throwing in a technical gymnastic term for one of those comples moves – just once, maybe twice – would also suggest that these are not two normal squirrels.

With that said, I have to admit that the first two sentences don’t grab me. The second is better than the first, but I’d rather see something more attention-getting. I wish I had a suggestion for a replacement, but I don’t. Do we want a twist in that sentence suggesting everything seems good in the world, but appearances can be deceiving? Or some other introduction to the chasing squirrels? A lot depends on what is going to happen next (although I’m guessing it might have something to do with bees and a bear …)

As for the dialogue between Kon and Kuji, I’d drop the By the way in Kon’s first line. By the way sounds as if they’ve already been speaking, when further down we learn they haven’t been.

I really like the line “Master Jonin says you’re the one.” It conveys a lot, sets up our expectations, and explains why Kuji was able to keep up with Kon’s aerial tricks. He’s some kind of protégé, a fulfillment of a prophecy, maybe.

I wonder, however, about Kuji’s incorrect grammar here: “I don’t know nothing about any of that.” It doesn’t match the rest of his speech. And I also wonder about the “Whoa!” in response to the sight of the One Hundred Acre Wood, when right before that he says, “Is that it?” as if he is unimpressed. Maybe it should be rewritten as: “Whoa! Is that it?”

Finally, when Kon hollers “Race you there!” I expect Kuji to respond more enthusiastically. A Ninja squirrel who just followed his unknown contact through that twisting, turning chase will have no problem keeping up with and possibly beating Kon to their headquarters. Readers, what do you think?

Thanks, Mike, for sharing your first page! (And isn’t Ninja squirrels protecting Pooh’s woods an awesome premise?!) You can find Mike at his website – and often at #MGLitchat on Twitter, Thursdays at 9pm EST. And don’t forget to check out Marcy’s feedback to this same page on Mainewords.



  1. Robin says:

    Mike, I imagine all kinds of wonderful adventures for squirrel ninjas in The Hundred Acre Wood. Great idea. I think Dianne did a great job critiquing you fun and imaginative first page. She hit on many of the points that stood out to me. As for the start, I definitely need something that will grab me. Maybe starting on the third sentence would help, but even then, I want to be inside one of their heads a little earlier. All the first squirrel, second squirrel stuff creates a great squirrel playing image, but I wanted to go deeper. I didn’t really care about the squirrels until they started talking, but I want to from the first moment. Can we be in Kuji’s head maybe? Feel his nervousness at meeting a contact and following him blindly?

    Good luck and nice start!

  2. Good points. I didn’t notice the shift in grammar until you pointed it out.
    And yes, Ninjas are fast! He should be right on his bushy little tail the whole way.

  3. Krystalyn Drown says:

    First off, I loooove the title and premise. I’d take a look based on that alone. I do agree with Dianne on her notes, and I had one thing to add. For me, the transition between the squirrels running and the dialogue seemed jarring. I would like to see it all brought together, with more of the ninja qualities in the first half and a touch of the cute squirrel descriptions brought down into the second half. Good luck with this. I’d definitely want to read more.

    • Mike Hays says:

      Thanks, Krystalyn. Your suggestion is exactly what I will be doing on this rewrite. Try to weave in the dialogue and the action better and earlier in the sequence.

  4. Joanne Fritz says:

    Mike, I think you’re very brave, and creative, to re-imagine the world of Pooh! There’s plenty of action on this first page, which is always a plus but it didn’t draw me in as much as it should have. You could start with the third sentence and not lose anything.

    I found “by the way” sort of stilted. Not what I would have imagined them saying after all that chasing and leaping. Maybe Kon could say something complimentary instead, like wow, you kept up with me all the way. Or whatever. Then he could introduce himself. Better still, move the dialogue up sooner so we can dispense with the first squirrel, second squirrel and call them by their names. Or, as Robin suggests, get inside one of their heads. I agree with Dianne about the grammar in Kuji’s speech.

    • Mike Hays says:

      Great suggestions and comments, Joanne. I think putting the pieces together in a new mix will do wonders. Not brave, just have protective acrobatic squirrels at the house and have always loved the One Hundred Acre Wood. Thanks!

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  6. Lexa Cain says:

    Hi Mike! I think the idea is very sweet! However, the beginning felt a bit long and slightly confusing to me. Since I don’t know either squirrel, what they want, or what their purpose is, and they’re mostly called “first squirrel” and “second squirrel,” I can’t connect with them. Rather than an outside narrator, I suggest you make one of the squirrels a POV character. If I know what the mc is thinking and can share in his emotions, I can connect with him and the story more easily.

    • Mike Hays says:

      Thanks for the advice, Lexa. I think your suggestions are right on. Jump inside Kuji’s head right away and go from there. By the way, just started SOUL CUTTER yesterday(finally). Enjoying it so far.

  7. Mike Hays says:

    The First Impressions is very cool and so helpful. The suggestions and comments will make the start of NINJA SQUIRREL rock.
    Thank you for the opportunity and the great advice. Hopefully, I can come back for a future turn.

    • DianneSalerni says:

      Mike, you are welcome back any time — with a revised version of this page or another project. Good luck! This seems like a winner to me!

      I gotta know … Do they meet Pooh?

      • Mike Hays says:

        Dianne, here is the official answer to your question:
        The Three Barks (rules) of the Ninja Squirrels of the One Hundred Acre Wood:
        1. Ichi Gun, Ichi Mi (One district, one band).”
        2. Protect and do no harm to the Wood or its inhabitants.
        3. Never allow the inhabitants know of our existence and purpose.

        The unofficial answer is: Maybe, just maybe…

  8. Now that you pointed it out, beginning where the action starts is where it picks up. I fear I am guilty of meandering starts, but in my defense, they seem so much more poetic. But I think readers prefer to dive in.