Jack Gantos, , illus. by Nicole Rubel. . FSG, $14 (48pp) ISBN 978-0-374-36355-0

Fans of Gantos's irrepressible Ralph who are ready to graduate from picture books will eagerly leap into this early chapter book, the first installment of the Rotten Ralph Rotten Reader series. Not surprisingly, the disaster-prone feline initially does not help out at all, but rather comically wreaks havoc as he accompanies Sarah to the library. While she researches a school project on the Egyptians, Ralph constructs a pyramid out of books and practices writing hieroglyphics on the walls. Back home, the rambunctious cat, more determined than ever to offer assistance, proceeds to flood the bathroom when Sarah suggests they build a model of an Egyptian boat; he also fills the living room with sand and palm trees when she considers building a desert oasis. In a pleasing if predictable turnabout, Ralph comes to Sarah's rescue when he dresses up as the Sphinx to provide her with a winning project for school. The author sprinkles his lighthearted narrative with facts about ancient Egyptian culture and lifestyle. His animated pictures feature ample amusing particulars and reveal the less-than-rotten Ralph with a range of diverting facial expressions. Gantos gets it right again. Ages 6-8. (Aug.)