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That Pesky Rat

There is no-one quite like Lauren Child.  Her unique style of illustration, part drawing, part collage, lends itself brilliantly to this heartwarming tale of a homeless, nameless rat in search of an owner.

The rat has no name, so people just call him ‘that pesky rat’.  He lives in dustbin number 3, Grubby Alley, and sleeps in a Hula Hoop packet with a used teabag as a pillow.  Desperate for a name (and an owner) he visits his friends to work out what kind of lifestyle would suit him.  Pierre the chinchilla has too many baths.  Oscar the cat spends too much time on his own.  The rat doesn’t fancy walking the tightrope like Nibbles the rabbit, and Miss St.Clair dresses Andrew the Scottish Terrier in a hat and coat.  However, as the rat says, if wearing a jumper means he gets an owner ‘I would do anything to be somebody’s pet’.

Eventually he goes to the pet shop to be gently told that people don’t generally adopt brown rats off of the street.  But he writes a (hilarious, beautifully conceived) notice and puts it in the window.  And waits.

The rat is a loveable, charming protagonist – a streetwise street rat with a hard nose and a soft centre. Child’s drawings are typically full of character and humour is conveyed by both the pictures and the text.  The patient rat waits in the pet shop on a stool three times his height with his little feet dangling in midair like a toddler.  Nibbles the circus rabbit has career-related stress: “sometimes I could with leaving off the clown’s nose and putting my feet up.”  And the rat wonders if his aversion to baths is based in an allergy to soap.

There is a lot to discuss in this book, too.   Why is the rat homeless? Why do people judge him? More philosophical children may be able to handle questions like why the rat wants a name. Talk about the different houses he visits – where would you want to live and why?  You could even branch out to arts and crafts and make your own collage of the rat in his bin, or make his pet shop advert.

That Pesky Rat has a happy ending with a genuinely funny twist.  It is an absolute delight to read, look at and share.  And if you needed any more convincing, it is now part of UNESCO’s Programme for the Education of Children in Need; buy a special copy of That Pesky Rat and all profits from both author and publisher go to the Programme.  Have a look at My Life is a Story for more details.

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Hubert Horatio Bartle Bobton-Trent

Hubert Horatio Bartle Bobton-Trent is a young boy, a millionaire, and a genius.  His parents own houses all over the world, throw fabulous parties, love people, and are incredibly disorganised.  In fact they can’t even remember his whole name, and call him simply H.  (Hubert seems to have suffered from parental neglect his entire life: he discovers he can read when his mother leaves him, aged two, tucked up under her gossip magazine.  He discovers he can swim when he falls into the swimming pool aged three whilst his parents are entertaining.)  The affable absent-mindedness of Hubert’s parents has one predictable result however: they run out of money.  Desperate to save his parents from the loss of their beloved mansion, Hubert and his fellow genius and best friend Stanton Harcout III team up to try to save the Bobton-Trent family fortune.  His parents’ generosity and love of socialising makes this almost impossible however, and soon Hubert is left with only one option.

This is another book from the formidable Lauren Child, creator of Charlie and Lola.  Her typically creative illustrations, part drawing, part collage, are great fun and the text is enjoyable and complex.  Our eldest cadet bookworm enjoyed this from around 2 years old but was an exception rather than a rule – in general the book is both long and complicated with some fantastic but very wordy ideas, and is more suited to preschoolers.  It is also a real challenge to read as the words wander all over the page!  The double-barrelled pseudo-posh names are entertaining to say and make good excuses to practise improving enunciation and clarity.   You could also ask children to come up with other ideas that Hubert and Stanton could have used to raise money, or discuss which of the Bobton-Trents’ houses they would rather live in: their old house or their new house.

There are a few inconsistencies in the text – why for example do the Bobton-Trents need to sell their family home when they have three houses around the world they could sell instead? – and less wordy children may struggle with the length of it, but the book is a good read all the same.  It has a nice anti-materialistic message at the end (Hubert’s parents don’t mind losing their house, they are pleased to find new people to socialise with in their new flat) and would be an especially good book for bright children in need of a challenge.