Nurk is a quiet homebody of a shrew. But when a mysterious plea for help arrives in the mail, he invokes the spirit of his fearless warrior-shrew grandmother, Surka, and sets off to find the sender. It seems the prince of the dragonflies has been kidnapped, and Nurk is his last hope for rescue. Such a mission would be daunting for even the biggest, baddest, and bravest of shrews, and Nurk is neither big nor bad, and only a little brave. But he does his very best--and hopes his grandmother would be proud.
Nurk is a warm, wonderful, and hilarious illustrated adventure about courage, family legacies, and friendships of a most unusual nature.
Nurk received a Premier Selection Award from the Junior Library Guild for Spring 2008.
Nurk started with a painting of a shrew in a sailboat made of a snailshell. Ursula painted it in response to whatever vague internal prompting leads her to paint anything (and believe me, she doesn't always know either--a typical Ursula Vernon painting starts with the artist sitting bolt upright in bed at three in the morning and saying "If storks carry babies, then vultures must carry zombie babies!")
Then she sat and stared at the painting for awhile, and thought "There's a story there." About all she knew was that he was looking at fish growing on a tree, and that she had a kid brother named Thomas Maximilien McRudd that might enjoy such a story.
There was indeed a story in the painting, although it took a few years and an enthusiastic agent and an array of wonderful editors at Harcourt Brace before the story of Nurk emerged in the form you see today.
Praise for Nurk
Kirkus Reviews April 15, 2008 (Page 18)
A reclusive young shrew develops a taste for adventure in this short,
witty debut. With the example of his long-absent grandmother Surka-"a
fighter, a dishwasher, and a pirate queen"-before him, little Nurk
stocks up an empty shell he calls the Snailboat and sets off downriver
in response to a letter pleading for unspecified help. That plea comes,
as it turns out, from Scatterwings, a thoroughly adolescent dragonfly
princess whose royal brother Flicker has been captured by the
Grizzlemole, a blind enchanter of mountainous size. The occasional
fluidly drawn black-and-white scenes depict a particularly tiny and
timorous-looking rodent, but Nurk shows heart aplenty in taking on a
series of eldritch challenges-and he returns home afterward bolstered by
a new self-assurance likely to spur him on in sequels to search for his
lost grandparent. Nurk's adventure, and the tone in which it's related,
will remind readers of Stuart Little's quest. (Fantasy. 10-12)
Fans of Ursula Vernon's offbeat comics series Digger should check out her first children's book, Nurk: The Strange, Surprising Adventures Of A (Somewhat) Brave Shrew (Harcourt). The title doesn't quite tell it all—it leaves out the uniquely Vernon-esque bizarreries, like the talking- salmon tree—but it sums up most of the story, in which a determined but fearful shrew sets out downriver in a caulked snail shell to answer a vague distress call sent by mail. The story, spaced out with periodic (though never enough) black-and-white Vernon drawings, echoes The Wind In The Willows a bit in its playful tone and its sense of a larger animal world that in some ways is much like the human
one, and in other ways is strictly bound to beastly instincts and fur, claws, and wings. Throughout, Nurk the shrew is informed and supported by the weirdo diary of a famous forebear, whose own whacko adventures underline Nurk's initially mundane troubles with wet socks and uncooperative tree branches. Vernon's appealingly strange muse still finds its best expression in her gorgeous color paintings rather than in her more cut-and-dried prose and monochromatic sketches, but Nurk remains an enjoyably loopy, brilliantly creative kids' book full of fun narrative surprises… B+