It's easy to run out of flattering adjectives when reviewing the books of children's author Avi. A prolific author, inventive and smart, he writes books that run the gamut of genre and age group. He has won countless awards, including three Newbery Medals, one of which he received for last year's Crispin: The Cross of Lead. But, whatever age group Avi is writing for, you can be sure that the young readers are in for a treat. The Mayor of Central Park is the story of Oscar Westerwit, resident of New York City and squirrel-about-town. It's the early days of the 20th century, and this friendly and guileless young rodent, affectionately known by his peers as the "Mayor" of Central Park, is about to have his world turned upside down. Like many a young squirrel (and man) in that day and time, his life is wrapped around that most wonderful of games, baseball. When his star pitcher, a big cat named Arty, is run out of town by a rat who doesn't like the way the feline is courting his daughter, that's just the start of Oscar's troubles. That self-same rat is known as Big Daddy Duds, and along with his henchman, a possum named Uriah Pilwick, he has decided to move his gang of thugs uptown, to Central Park! Oscar isn't the bravest critter in the world, and he's more of a dreamer than a soldier, but somehow he has to keep the park from falling into enemy hands. And then there's that pretty nurse named Maud.
The Mayor of Central Parkis a wonderful book, equal parts O. Henry, Damon Runyon and Ring Lardner. Avi has crafted an affectionate pastiche of those turn-of-the-century writers. The narrative offers plenty of humor and suspense, as well as a little romance and a lot of baseball. Young readers, both boys and girls, will enjoy Oscar's adventures. The Mayor of Central Park hits a home run. James Neal Webb writes from Nashville.