RATS! by Richard Conniff


The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Age Range: 8 - 12
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A slick presentation combines chatty text and flashy design to delve into the lore and science of rats. Double-page spreads present brief discussions of some element of rat-study together with full-color photographs and sidebars. Topic headings include “What Big Teeth You Have and Other Basic Biology,” “Mrs. Rat’s Humble Abode,” “The Killer Rat,” and “The War on Rats.” Conniff’s (for adults: The Natural History of the Rich, p. 1088, etc.) text is full of interesting factoids, from the occasional presence of rats in White House file cabinets to their prodigious appetites (one rat can eat over 20 pounds of food a year) to the use of rats in laboratories. The photographs are striking, with images of rats leaping, eating, bathing, doing tricks, and (in one unforgettable shot) crawling out of a toilet. There is a peculiar tension in this package; on the one hand, there seems to be an effort to rehabilitate, or at least demystify, the rat—“Rats can, of course, be ferocious—but only when cornered”—but a flip, offhand tone tosses off pat phrases that counter this effect: e.g., “So how many rats do you really have in your town? Here is a reliable, scientific estimate: too many.” This is complemented by bold colors that provide the background of many pages and faux-typewriter display type; these elements combine to emphasize the sensational, while the dense text provides sober, and potentially overlooked, reportage. This is a shame, as, flippant and occasionally condescending tone aside, there is quite a lot of substance to this offering—the child who is able to move past the neon will find much of interest within. (Nonfiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2002
ISBN: 0-375-81207-5
Page count: 40pp
Publisher: Crown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 2002


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