Rowe (The GingerbreadMan, 1996, etc.) presents another delightfully eccentric character from his bestiary: an old storytelling rat named Smudge, who recalls his childhood abduction by a bird. Back at the nest, after a brief stint as a beak buffer, he becomes part of the family, learning to chirp and ""even thought about laying an egg."" But the birds fly off and he is snatched by a dog. The dogs run off--he is too slow--and his next forced domicile is a rabbit hutch. They bound off, and Smudge's hopping can't compare. So it goes with fish and squirrels: Smudge is first used by his captor, then abandoned when he can't mimic his abductor's most salient attribute. At last, glory be, he is whisked off by a brown rat with a big smile: Mom. Rowe replays the to-thine-own-self-be-true theme with a combination of drollery and piquancy, with artwork that is dauntingly emotional: Sometimes Smudge is diminutive, looking highly vulnerable and far away; at other times readers are right there in the dark-toned illustrations, holding Smudge's hand, sharing his journey toward home.