© Tor Seidler and Fred Marcellino.
Ellen picked this up at the book sale, enjoyed it, and thought I would, too. She was right. An urban New York animal fantasy in the tradition of George Selden’s “A Cricket in Times Square,” this book focuses on Montague, a young rat who doesn’t fit into rat society, lives in the sewers with his eccentric family instead of on the wharf where all the posh rats live, and has a hidden artistic talent. One day in Central Park a sudden thunderstorm brings him together with Isabel, a posh lady rat, and before long they are drawn into a series of ever more frightening adventures as they try to keep their rat society from being swept away by a greedy human.
While I like anthropomorphic animal stories as long as the animals don’t behave too much against their animal nature, at first I thought this story was too derivative of others I’ve read, but I soon found myself engaged by the characters and the writing, and the plot rolls along at a good pace, with a number of twists and turns that add excitement. The social commentary and family interactions are also well done, and the rat society is believable enough to work for me. Perhaps not a classic, this is still quite a good read.
The shaded pencil illustrations by Fred Marcellino, who also did the cover, are also very well done. Not only are the pictures full of inventively-used human artifacts, like this sardine-tin bathtub, but the expressions on the animals are convincing. The cover is in the same style, but with color added, and equally good.
First published in 1986, the copy we have is a fifth printing from 1997, a sign that the book found an audience, and if you like stories of this kind (the film “Ratatouille” is not far afield), I can certainly recommend this one. If you’ve spent any time in New York City, you’ll enjoy the settings even more.