A clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst delivers a middle-grade novel with themes of adventure, cultural exchange, acceptance, and family.
Wilhelm von Schnitzelhausen is a young rat ready for a few escapades. He feels that it is time for him to see the world, especially his ancestors’ origins. With blessings from his family, he takes his trusty satchel and begins his journey in the back of a garbage truck, where he meets the first of many companions, a young rat from China. Boarding an airplane, Wil flies to China, his first stop on a whirlwind tour that includes Sweden, Germany, and Italy. He encounters many friends—fellow rats, but also mice and even gnomes—as well as enemies, such as mean humans and trolls. In each place, he learns new customs, engages in festivities, and visits landmarks, from the Year of the Rat celebration and the Great Wall in China to Oktoberfest in Germany and the Coliseum in Rome. Wil works for a brief period as a service rat in Sweden, where he learns to identify illnesses in children and sniff out rat poison. He commits what his family calls the “sniff code” to memory so that he can prevent his loved ones from encountering a sticky end. Ritter’s (Return to Dresden, 2004, etc.) diverting tale does not shy away from the reality of rats’ lives amid garbage, but it also treats the rodents with a great deal of respect, even putting the words of St. Francis of Assisi into play. The novel is well-researched, with footnotes on several pages referencing source materials for folk tales or clarifying the meanings of non-English words and phrases. Friendly, black-and-white digital illustrations by Rider (Angus MacDream and the Roktopus Rogue, 2015) accompany the story. At the end of the engaging book is a series of useful questions that urge readers to reflect on the importance of Wil’s odyssey and recall specific details and themes.
A charming tale for young readers who are animal lovers as well as an appealing addition to a curriculum centered on exploring nature or learning to share space with other creatures.