In Wallace’s (Trojan, 2016) middle-grade novel, illustrated by Dean (A Bark in a Prayer, 2015), a misfit bunny finds a home and learns to accept himself as he is.
Ralphy is a long-eared rabbit whose unusual looks condemn him to be passed over by prospective owners as other animals find new homes. But one day, he finally finds his home with Marta, a young girl who convinces her parents, Daddy John and Mama Sarah, that she’d much rather have an out-of-the-ordinary rabbit than a dog or a cat. Ralphy soon settles into Marta’s house, making friends with Goldie, the resident fish, but his new niche is threatened when Marta brings home an injured feline, whom she names Oscar. Ralphy is jealous of the new arrival, and his antagonism increases when he discovers that the cat is only faking an injury in order to avoid the streets. With Goldie’s help, Ralphy hatches a plan to visit Marvin the Magician, whom he’s seen on TV, so that he may change into a real boy and reclaim his position as the family favorite. A series of mishaps on the way to the flea market leaves Ralphy and Oscar relying on each other to survive. Wallace’s contribution to talking-pets literature is an enjoyable one, featuring a compelling plot and engaging characters. Ralphy’s sense of inadequacy comes across as endearing without crossing over into self-pity (“She was the first kid that wanted him. He wanted her, too”). The animals’ struggle for household supremacy raises the stakes of their minor conflicts, and Ralphy’s and Oscar’s efforts to hide from animal control and avoid becoming stray dogs’ dinner create an age-appropriate atmosphere of peril. Although the book presents its moral a bit too forcefully in the closing pages, the overall story retains its entertainment value. Dean’s simple grayscale illustrations, sprinkled throughout the text, are valuable additions to the narrative—making it clear, for example, that Ralphy’s ears truly are ridiculous.
An entertaining, short novel for early readers that promotes creativity, friendship, and acceptance.