Ugh, this book. It's hard to believe it was written in the 1980s, when its attitudes seem to be straight from the 1940s.
The main characters in this book are Chester Cricket, Simon Turtle, and Walter Water Snake. Others are John Robin, Donald Dragonfly, Bill Squirrel, Sam Grackle, Henry and Emily Chipmunk, and Beatrice and Jerome Pheasant. Of these 11 characters, 9 are male, and both of the females are presented as overly-domestic. One of the females, Beatrice Pheasant, is downright unnatural:
Now, it is well known that in most pheasant families the male bird always grows the most beautiful plumage. It's his right — Nature says so. And indeed, in the case of Jerome and Beatrice, if you looked very closely you would see that the gold and the amber and the brown — and perhaps a hidden trace of green — that his feathers contained were more brilliant than hers. Yet somehow, Beatrice seemed the more grand. Perhaps it was just that she always walked first, and talked first, and spoke with such quiet authority. Or maybe her size, which was very impressive, made her look rather special. Whatever the reason, Beatrice was the Pheasant who favored the Old Meadow with her presence, and Jerome was a pheasant, her husband, whom everyone tended to like and forget. (On most matters, in fact, Beatrice Pheasant like to have the last word, and not leave it to Nature or anyone else whose views might differ from her own.)
Other characters who are mentioned but don't appear in the story are Lou Squirrel, Dorothy Robin, Mr. Mouse, Mr. Cat, Uncle Rosebush, and Miss Jenny, the Pheasants' field mouse. This brings the ratio of female characters up to almost 25%.
Interestingly, the humans are largely female. There is May and Lola, two middle-aged women who, being too fat to walk through Hedley's Meadow without resting, sit on Chester's stump so that their combined weight crushes his home. They roll down the hill into the creek and are generally ridiculous. Then there is Toots, a young woman who had the gall to wear high heels and tacky clothes in the Meadow with her boyfriend, when they really should have been in a disco, not in nature. Walter Water Snake tells a story about how he "teaches her a lesson." There is one mention of a human boy, "Jaspar — the one who helped you save the Old Meadow", so perhaps only adult women are supposed to keep a respectful distance from Nature. Apparently Jaspar's biggest problem was his mother, who was making him "maladjusted" by having him wipe his feet and wash his hands.
So yes, while the main story of Chester trying to find a new home was charming, the message this book conveys is that nature is perfect when if is full of boys, but women will mess it up with their persnickety domesticity. The the way the female characters were made to seem ridiculous and unnatural was not kind or loving, and to me it didn't feel like it was coming from a place of gentle jest.
I was deeply uncomfortable reading this book to my daughter. I regretted that Chester didn't have any female friends, and that the few female characters in the book were portrayed so negatively. Nothing on the cover of this book said it was for boys only, but the unmistakable anti-female vibe made me wish I had stayed away. Then again, I would have been uncomfortable reading this book to a boy too, especially one who I wanted to grow up to like women. NOT recommended.