When some mischievous (and none-too-neat) young bunnies and their older sister, Lettuce, hear the news that rats are moving into their apartment building, they are excited, but none of the other animal tenants share their joy.
The others—a sheep, two pigs, polar bears, a couple of yaks, and Granny Goat—voice their objections to rats in terms most adult humans would use as well: “RATS! BIG, DIRTY, SMELLY, THIEVING, DANGEROUS RATS [who will] bury us alive in RAT POOP!” When the assembled tenants go to meet the titular “new neighbors” despite their escalating fears, the animals are very pleasantly surprised. Bertram and Natasha, each a “small, tidy, friendly-looking rat,” invite them all in for “homemade cake.” Bertram, the consummate host, manages to politely put his guests at ease by saying: “We know that rats aren’t everyone’s idea of the perfect neighbors!” The animals look properly abashed. This timely story about prejudice toward newcomers preceded by bad press is leavened by its comic, full-bleed, double-page illustrations that are full of action, speech balloons, and humorously dressed animals (yaks in bathrobes, Bertram in a natty bow tie and vest) as well as text that employs a cumulative effect as the animals join the parade downstairs. It is unfortunate that Bertram actually apologizes about moving in and that the two rats are so comically vanilla in their aspects—none of the animal bigots must overcome their unreasonable fear of difference.
This story about neighborliness and community will resonate, though it doesn’t go as far as it needs to. (Picture book. 5-7)