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A tale of sparkly treasures, mangled words, peculiar meetings, and a packrat who discovers the meaning of family and home.

Flora is an ordinary packrat. She’s never flown through the air. She avoids strangers, especially singing porcupines and rude rabbits. She’s never met a king of the kangaroo rats, and she would never talk with an owl—because everyone knows owls can’t talk. Besides, they eat packrats.

Flora’s predictable life is all about snuggling in her treasure-packed nest and “snibbling” snacks with her packrat pal.

Life is perfect—except for the dreaded cliff. “Beware!” warn other packrats, and Flora’s stomach twists into knots.

All this is about to change when Flora learns about the ancestral packrat home, stuffed in a dark crack in the cliff, where countless packrats have raised their young. But a killer lurks there, driving packrats away.

The story haunts Flora, even as she tumbles into a faraway canyon where her life turns topsy-turvy.

Quirky critters, scary predators, and daring adventures impact her search for home, leading to surprising discoveries. And she learns she’s not such an ordinary packrat after all.

For readers 8-12 years. Support materials are available for teachers and book groups, including a crossword puzzle, word search, and discussion questions.

Reviews of The Dreaded Cliff

Flora the packrat lives her packrat life in her beloved nest amid her cache of treasures.

However, her peaceful life is overshadowed by the dreaded cliff, a crack in a nearby outcropping with an ominous place in packrat legend. Like other packrats, Flora has been told to beware of the dreaded cliff and to avoid it. And so she does, until an encounter with a packrat matriarch sheds light on the real story and the tragic events that occurred there. The story arc takes Flora on a journey far from her home, where she meets new friends and learns about differences and balance in the natural world before returning to confront the dreaded cliff once and for all. Help comes from unexpected places and, finally, from within. This is a delightful story for young readers interested in animals and nature; the story, written by a former National Park Service ranger, is rich with scientifically accurate details about the desert species that populate Flora’s landscape. Additional factual information about the species in the book can be found in the author’s notes. The book is also a feast for developing vocabularies, as Flora—who talked early—loves words and puns. The resulting text is linguistically rich and frequently humorous. Spot art at the beginnings of chapters helps readers visualize the animals and setting, enhancing the mood of the story.

An entertaining animal adventure. (Fiction. 9-12) Kirkus Reviews

From retired National Park Service ranger of thirty years, Terry Nichols, The Dreaded Cliff is about an extraordinary journey from an ordinary packrat named Flora. Flora is always warned by other packrats to beware of the dreaded cliff, but she doesn’t understand why. One day, Flora meets another packrat named Grandma Mimi who tells her about a time when the cliff was home to all packrats, until a beast drove them away. When a couple of humans hit the road in their van—Flora’s home—Flora suddenly finds herself in new territory. She encounters quicksand and the King of all Kangaroo Rats, but will Flora ever return home? Nichols gives readers a charming packrat character, while also providing an accurate picture of packrat behavior in their natural setting of the high desert. The end of the book includes more detailed descriptions of the other animals encountered in the story, including a packrat’s natural predators, the Great Horned Owl and Great Basin Gopher Snake. Odessa Sawyer’s black and white illustrations provide further detail of Flora and her environment. An ideal book for those younger middle grade readers transitioning from early reader to more advanced middle grade books.
Reviewed By: Bobbie Peyton 4/5 Stars Portland Book Review

The Dreaded Cliff was sent to me by Terry Nichols for review. She’d seen my previous review of Green Ember and asked if I’d like to read another book about talking animals!

This is no ordinary talking animal book.Terry has given each animal unique traits, which reflect their characteristics in the natural world. You can tell she did her research. Plus, these characters are just so much fun! I adored Flora the Packrat, who likes to use big words (though most often incorrectly!) and is a foodie of sorts.

If you like books about talking animals, where the characters are grounded in the real world, you will love this book!

Of course, it was much enjoyed by my younger son, fan of Green Ember.

My question: 

One of the things I liked best about The Dreaded Cliff is how the animals had animal traits, like in Charlotte’s Web.

Can you tell us about the research you did for these animals and how you used that to create their very unique personalities?
Terry’s answer: 

I researched written articles, field guides, professional papers, video clips, anecdotal stories, and drew on my personal experiences to create the animal characters in The Dreaded Cliff.
Paco’s singing talent was inspired by online videos of Teddy Bear, a porcupine in a wildlife refuge who gnashes corn with gusto and clucks, yelps, squeaks, and argues with a range of inflections and slobbery yum-yummy sounds. I figured if a real porcupine has that kind of voice, then surely Paco sings opera. And of course, loves to eat. But Paco is also shy and doesn’t quite know what the fuss is about regarding his quills. I imagine a lot of young porcupines have a similar experience—they don’t know the power of what they’ve got until they actually use it. 

A kangaroo rat is a small package of spunk, adaptability, and resourcefulness. With his oversized rear feet he’ll pound the ground, kick sand in an attacking snake’s eyes, or bound away in amazing leaps. I see a lot of bluster and exaggeration in these solitary creatures. My armchair psychologist stepped in when I created King Cyrus. He’s perhaps compensating for his diminutive size, deep-seated fears (justified, when it comes to owls and badgers), and isolated lifestyle. Yet he has a caring, generous heart and yearns to connect with others—enough to welcome a lost packrat to his burrow.

Great horned owls are superb night hunters, with acute hearing, keen vision, and the ability to swivel their necks 270 degrees. Their silent flight and aerial perspective contributed to the story’s owl character. In its injured state, the owl appeals to my hero’s deeper sense of shared connection with the animal world, demonstrating qualities of a broader vision, wisdom, foresight, and mercy.
I’ve enjoyed the curiosity and intelligence of packrats for years and have had lovely face-to-face encounters with them. Hefty Grandma Mimi was inspired by the blubbery-looking packrat I caught in a livetrap once, who I imagined yearned for the protection and comfort of her ancestral home while she waited for me to release her. 

Flora is the packrat who “snibbled” my eggplants all summer long, scattered the compost pile across the landscape, and built her den in the ’79 Volkswagen van. Since that packrat was so fond of the compost buffet, I’m quite sure she was a food critic. Flora’s world of word play, treasure collecting, and food exploration is enough until the story of the ancestral packrat home stimulates her yearning for something bigger. And with her journey afar, she’s nudged to listen to her deeper self and is challenged to stay true to the essence of a packrat—who doesn’t just collect stuff—but collects stuff for a purpose, building on and joining in the bigger story of her packrat ancestors.

Thank you for sharing about the background of your characters! I love how Flora was inspired by your real experiences with packrats. 

Jenni Enzor, Jenni Enzor: MMGM: The Dreaded Cliff