Tonk and the Battle of the 200

by John Inman (iUniverse, Inc., Bloomington, Indiana, 2011, 283 pages.)

Book Review by Dennis Moore

Living just a short stroll from the world famous San Diego Zoo, where this story takes place, author John Inman’s lifelong fascination with wildlife has made his writing of Tonk and the Battle of the 200 a true labor of love. The author concocts a fable of the animal kingdom that is sure to warm the hearts of those having a love affair or kinship with our furry creatures. The subject and hero of this book is Tonk, a precocious squirrel. Tonk isn’t your average American squirrel. While most squirrels are content living in their home tree for the entirety of their lives, little Tonk is curious. Curiosity can sometimes get the best of us, as Inman’s story unfolds. Tonk wonders what’s out there beyond the End of Things. What lingers over the horizon? What has he never seen? One day he hears of a magical flying squirrel held captive in a place called “The San Diego Zoo,” and Tonk knows his time has come. He will rescue the squirrel and learn to fly.

To those of us living in and around San Diego and their world famous zoo, we can certainly understand the significance of “the Battle of the 200.” Upon entering the zoo, and in Bogey’s uneven understanding of human thinking and reading, the crusty old jackrabbit interprets the word “Zoo” at the entrance as “200.” It becomes a battle as Tonk and his friends navigate themselves through this zoo, which is fraught with human and animal perils.

Tonk leaves his family behind and sets forth on a dangerous journey to rescue the legendary squirrel with the hope that he too, can learn how to fly. But Tonk doesn’t know how to survive out there alone. He makes friends with Bogey, a crusty old jackrabbit; El Curador, a Mexican museum mouse; and Pockets, an alarmingly awkward pelican. His friends show him the way to the mysterious zoo, which is when and where this fable begins.

In the process of saving the young flying squirrel, they must face the enemies that protect her; in so doing, Tonk becomes much more than a young squirrel – he becomes a hero, with his brave buddies to back him up. In the end, he might do more than save a damsel in distress; he might fall in love. Who says you have to be big to make a difference? Told in his own inimitable style, Inman envelops the reader in a vicarious adventure of the animal kingdom.

A poignant moment in the book and story comes when Tonk and Bogey get separated at the zoo, and Bogey falls into the lion’s den, and Bogey frets over being a meal to these beasts. Told in a humorous way, these friends reunite with each other after Bogey escapes from this unpleasant predicament.

Using human metaphors such as “the traveling machines (cars) spitting terrible fumes that make Tonk’s eye’s water,” makes this book an enchanting and wonderful read. The comical exchanges between Tonk and Bogey also adds to the story. This book and story is full of warm and humorous anecdotes, a book that I highly recommend.