Sunday, March 2, 2008

Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat by Lynne Jonell, ill. by Nathan Bean

I recommend this book for: grades 4-5

Emmy is miserable, and for good reason. Although she gets good grades and has won 2 whole shelves full of awards and trophies, nobody notices her. Not her classmates, not her teacher, and not even her parents, who recently inherited a large fortune and now spend all of their time taking expensive vacations. Emmy spends all of her time in the care of Miss Barmy, a nanny who enrolls Emmy in every kind of class imaginable, forces her to take all sorts of vile medicines and see the school psychologist regularly, and is generally cruel. Emmy is upset about her life but fairly resigned to it until the first conversation she has with the class pet - a rat who sneers when students make mistakes and bites any finger that comes into his cage - about the merits of being bad. That's when the excitement begins . . .

As it turns out, rodents have special powers. They can all talk, but the Rat's bite can make humans understand rodent speech, among other curious effects . . . Emmy's experiment with being bad leads her to some new friends - human and rodent - who help her to find out what is really going on in her house, and how to save her parents and herself from Miss Barmy's clutches.

I thought this was a fantastic book. It reminded me of Roald Dahl mixed with the Rats of NIMH, and it made a delightful combination. The rodent and human characters are interesting and . . . perhaps believable isn't the right word, but their relationships work. The names of the adults are silly and reveal something of their character (in addition to Miss Barmy, there is Cheswick Vole and Professor Maxwell Capybara). My only complaint is the openness of the ending - after enjoying these characters so much, I really wanted to know what became of all of the rodents, whether Joe and his father managed to get along better, and what family life was like for Emmy and her parents in the end. Overall, though, this is a very fun read!

Reviews from the pros.

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