cover image Rot, the Cutest in the World!

Rot, the Cutest in the World!

Ben Clanton. Atheneum, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-4814-6762-9

Rot is not the cutest in the world. He’s a “mutant potato” with stick legs, four straggling hairs, and a substantial unibrow. What he does have is confidence, and when he sees a sign advertising the Cutest in the World Contest, he’s in. Never mind that his competitors are a baby bunny “with fluffy floppy ears,” a kitten, and a pink jellyfish. They’re all adorable, but they treat Rot with disdain (“I think I’m going to be sick!”). In a brief sequence, Rot wavers: perhaps he should look more like the others? He tries on a pair of fluffy ears, but they’re “kind of itchy!” No, he’ll be himself. He earns the other animals’ respect and triumphs in a most unexpected way. It’s a challenge to draw a character who’s both repellent and still appealing to readers, but Clanton (Boo Who?) does not pull his punches. He treats familiar themes—being and believing in oneself—with a light hand. And he explores, with sensitivity, the visceral reaction to real ugliness and suggests a path through it to the other side. Ages 4–8. Agent: Marietta Zacker, Gallt & Zacker Literary. (Dec.)