Nurk: The strange, surprising adventures of a (somewhat) brave shrew


Readability Age Range



Year Published

Book Review

Nurk by Ursula Vernon has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.

Plot Summary

Nurk is a shrew whose full name is Nurkus Aurelius Alonzo Electron Maximilian Shrew. He lives under the roots of a whistling willow tree on an island and admires his grandmother Surka — a warrior shrew — who vanished a long time ago.

A letter arrives that asks his grandmother for help. Since she isn’t there, Nurk packs his grandmother’s journal and dry socks, and sails downstream in a boat that is an empty snail shell. When he falls asleep, his boat becomes stuck in the middle of a stream after being entangled by branches.

Fortunately, Scatterwings, a dragonfly princess and the writer of the letter asking for help, is rescued from those same branches. Nurk becomes an accidental hero.

Once Scatterwings’ wings dry, she gets the nymphs, a dragonfly army and a carp to help free Nurk’s boat. Then Nurk is taken to meet the king of the dragonflies. The king asks for Nurk’s help in freeing his son from Grizzlemole, an evil animal who has captured Prince Flicker. Nurk timidly agrees to help.

On his way to Grizzlemole’s home, Nurk learns that a talking snapping turtle has seen his grandmother. Once inside Grizzlemole’s cave, Nurk removes the key from around Grizzlemole’s sleeping form to free Prince Flicker. Grizzlemole wakes up just in time to chase but not capture Prince Flicker and Nurk. Nurk and the prince retrace Nurk’s journey and are almost home when a heron-masked bird attacks them. But this time, the dragonfly army saves them.

Nurk is rewarded with a pair of clean dry socks, as he requested, and he learns from the king that his grandmother passed through the dragonfly kingdom a few seasons earlier. The carp that tows Nurk’s boat back to the whistling willow tree saw Nurk’s Grandmother Surka alive two seasons earlier. This gives Nurk hope.

Christian Beliefs


Other Belief Systems

The god of shrews is mentioned briefly at the opening of one chapter.

Authority Roles

Nurk’s grandmother is brave and respected by all who have met her. Nurk often consults her diary for direction and encouragement. Nurk’s great-aunt Wilhelmina is recalled for her past words of wisdom. The hummingbird mail deliverer is serious about its job. The great spotted salamander is Nurk’s next door neighbor and gives a great deal of advice and support — although sometimes in garbled speech. The king of dragonflies is gentle, yet rules with authority.

Profanity & Violence

An owl eats Nurk’s parents. Decapitation is also mentioned. Nurk has a picture hanging in his hallway of Surka holding a severed head.

Sexual Content


Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at

Additional Comments

A drunken hedgehog captains a boat mentioned in Surka’s diary.

You can request a review of a title you can’t find at [email protected].

Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book’s review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.