cover image THAT PESKY RAT


Lauren Child, . . Candlewick, $15.99 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-7636-1873-5

In this uplifting tale, a needle-nosed rodent yearns "to belong to somebody. To be a real pet. Most of all I would like to have a name, instead of just that pesky rat." The trash-can resident envies his apartment-dwelling buddies, like the chinchilla who grouses, "It's not all cushions and chocolates," and the Scottish terrier who doesn't like to wear a plaid coat: "It's kind of embarrassing when we go shopping." Undeterred by his friends' compromises, the rat posts a flyer ("looking for kindly owner with an interest in cheese") and hangs around a pet store, until a man with poor eyesight mistakes him for a cat and adopts him. Child (Beware of the Storybook Wolves) sketches her characters in a thick, loose black line, then uses these drawings in high-voltage photo-collages. Her crazy-quilt compositions, which include cutout pictures of furniture and bathroom tiles, patterned fabric and wood-grain wallpaper, suggest a skewed world where a city rat might endear himself to an eccentric fellow; it also helps that the sympathetic title character speaks in the first person. Instead of highlighting the rat's sneakiness, the redemptive ending conveys his devotion: "So what if I have to wear a sweater? Mr. Fortesque says, 'Well, Tiddles, who's a pretty kittycat?' And I squeak, 'I am!' " Ages 4-8. (Aug.)