Kelso's work is characterized by subject matter that fits roughly into two disparate camps: personal and semi-autobiographical stories that draw heavily on the details of her childhood and adolescence, and stories about the idea of America and American history, such as a trilogy of short pieces about Alexander Hamilton. Her work is distinguished from many of her contemporaries as much by her spare, elegant, calligraphic linework, leisurely pacing, and psychological acuity as it is by the absence of nihilism, scatology, pedantry, and formal experimentalism. Her work is charming, witty, nuanced, slightly elusive, and sharply observed.
The Squirrel Mother features 15 stories of between three and twenty-two pages in full color, including two stories, "Meow Face" and "Aide de Camp," done especially for this volume. The personal stories are each self-contained but in a sense take place in the same world where similar characters inhabit different stories. The "America" stories are broader in subject matter, taking on events of political and historical significance and wrestling with ideas having to do with the American experience.