cover image Not So Rotten Ralph CL

Not So Rotten Ralph CL

Jack Gantos, Nicole Rubel. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $16 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-395-62302-2

Can Mr. Fred's Feline Finishing School really expunge every trace of Ralph's unrepentant rottenness? For a few heart-stopping moments it seems so: although Ralph steadfastly resists the school's more conventional blandishments, he slips into a docile trance when Mr. Fred swings a watch back and forth before his eyes. His owner, Sarah, appalled by his impeccable but utterly bland demeanor, soon finds herself doing the unthinkable: luring Ralph into devilment by any means at hand. Depicting an inspired contest of wills between the normally notorious Ralph and his newly naughty taskmaster, this effort brims with Gantos and Rubel's characteristically and irresistibly funny details: Mr. Fred's ``golden rules'' prohibit meowing, hissing, burping and fun (Ralph makes a paper airplane of his copy); the pupils are admonished to keep their paws to themselves in a ``self-control room'' filled with enticingly fragile objects. Rubel's electrically colored, eccentrically patterned illustrations are as exuberant as ever: particularly rousing is Ralph's spiral-eyed, hypnotically vacant gaze. A cavil: there are a few errors in punctuation and diction (Sarah ``awards'' Ralph with a party). Ages 4-8. (Mar.)