cover image Rotten Ralph's Rotten Romance

Rotten Ralph's Rotten Romance

Jack Gantos. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $17 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-395-73978-5

In his Valentine-themed eighth adventure, misbehaving cat Rotten Ralph remains rude and remorseless. Worried that a Valentine's Day party ""means sticky, gooey, wet, drippy kisses,"" Ralph does his best to be unappealing; to prepare for the event, he perfumes his red fur with garbage and mashes a ""stink bug"" in the frilly ""secret valentine"" card he is told to bring. Although his stalwart friend Sarah dresses him as Cupid, he refuses to act the part-until he resentfully flings his love arrows and hits all the partygoers. ""Suddenly everyone wanted to kiss Ralph.... They called him cutey pie and pretty kitty and lovebug. Rotten Ralph groaned. He wanted to go home."" The wildly colorful illustrations, loaded with comic details, busy with floral motifs and tiny hearts, gleefully convey the sentimentality Ralph despises and his vain attempts to avoid it. Cynics will adore Ralph's gross idea of a gift (a chocolate sampler overrun by ants) and his kiss-proof dog-food-smeared lips. Ages 4-8. (Jan.)