cover image I Was a Rat!

I Was a Rat!

Philip Pullman. Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, $15.95 (176pp) ISBN 978-0-375-80176-1

The latest offering from Pullman (The Golden Compass; Count Karlstein) is a witty romp with fairy-tale roots. ""I was a rat!"" claims the boy in a tattered page's uniform who appears at the door of a kindly shoemaker and his washerwoman wife. Bob and Joan take in the boy, teach him table manners, name him Roger and do their best to provide for him. But this wouldn't be satire if the makeshift family were simply to live happily ever after--and so begins a series of misadventures in which Roger (wildly unworldly and more than a little ""ratty in his habits"") is kicked out of school, appears as an exhibit in a traveling freak show, falls in with a Dickensian band of young burglars and ends up imprisoned and condemned to death as the so-called ""Monster of the Sewers."" Providing a hilariously overblown (but ultimately chilling) commentary on the doings of Roger and others are excerpts from the Daily Scourge, an utterly shameless tabloid. The author brings about the de rigueur happy ending when Roger's life is spared, thanks both to Bob and Joan's steadfastness and the intervention of a certain newly wed princess, whose cameo appearance reveals the truth about Roger's origins (astute readers will pick up on the early clues). Pullman provides poignant insight into a well-known fairy tale and insinuates its implications for today's readers. Ages 8-10. (Feb.)