A group of rats confront prejudice in this allegorical middle-grade tale by Perry-Church (The Hunt for the Magic Pearl, 2015).
Black-and-white rat Joshua doesn’t have his whiskers yet, but the world around him is forcing him to grow up fast. It’s an environment in which green-skinned giants hate rats, so Joshua idolizes his brave father, Thomas, who can outsmart any trap. He also longs for his older brother, Frederick, who mysteriously disappeared from the family; his father even forbids talking about him. When the giants celebrate Thanksgiving, they have far too much food, so the rats help themselves, deftly avoiding a variety of traps. But when Old Ben, a wise and cunning elder rat, is killed by a new trap, things look bleak for Joshua and his family. After Thomas, too, falls to the devious trap with its irresistible peanut butter bait, the rats decide to get even. Tensions and strategies escalate until Joshua realizes the truth about his brother’s fate and faces some hard questions about the world of the giants. Joshua is a precocious narrator, but his vocabulary is unrealistic; he uses phrases such as “mammary hope” for the food that his mother offers her babies but also asks for definitions of “retaliate” and “irresistible.” Perry-Church leans heavily on real-world equivalency in how the rats act; for example, the young rats who want revenge, the “Young Power Packs—the YPPs,” are clearly meant to evoke a human gang. The giant characters are intriguing though not attractive, as their deep prejudices are clear in their conversation and behavior. With the book’s long introduction discussing skin-color hierarchy and the need for tolerance, it’s almost too obvious in its exploration of these issues, which sometimes keeps it from taking off as a story or looking more fully at the ethical issues it raises; for example, is the life of a pet better than the life of a free rat? The stylish, accomplished hand-painted illustrations, though, match the story’s tone perfectly.
A thoughtful, if unevenly executed, allegory about bigotry and the dangers of temptation.