If you haven’t met Keela yet, she’s the editor-in-chief of The Rodent Reader Quarterly magazine — which includes a new review by her in every issue (along with several of the articles).
Nothing like the viewpoint of a rat herself for getting the right perspective on a film or book starring her species!
NOTE FROM KEELA:
NEWS: Have you read the latest issue of TRRQ yet? Well, you won’t want to miss it! Featuring articles on the West Side Hwy rats, photographer Ellen van Deelen, NJ Ratfest, an intro to baby groundhog Bessie, and much more! And, of course, each issues includes a new review from me.
Go to the subscription page today — to subscribe, or purchase just one issue!!!
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NEWS!!! The third and final volume in the series reviewed below is reviewed in the 4th Qtr. 2014 issue of TRRQ! And, sadly, it’s proof that more is not always better. Take my advice and check out volume two, The White Assassin, instead. And, if you want the kind of more that is better after you finish that… read it again! (P.S. The White Assassin is reviewed in the 3rd qtr. 2012 edition of TRRQ, which you can order on the Back Issues page.
Well, first I have to say that in addition to reading this book itself, I also read all of the reviews of it at amazon.com and was very greatly surprised that none of them took issue with its graphic violence. Maybe mother rats are just a bit more squeamish about these things than most mother humans…and I specify most because my own human mom was likewise very upset by it. Noting the book is supposedly aimed at a 9-12 year old age group, she asked Dad (after he started reading it as well) what it would be rated if it were to be turned into a movie. He immediately answered PG-13…which seems to speak for itself regarding the book’s inappropriateness for younger kids.
Be that as it may, I have to admit that, as much as I disliked the violence, I really liked some of the characters a lot – and couldn’t wait to get done with my chores around the nest so I could curl up with it again and find out what was happening to them. Because, you see, the ones I liked the best kept getting into the most frightening predicaments – and it was very difficult to imagine how they might ever get out.
But, I’d better tell you a little about the story to show you what I mean. When it all begins, a large group of rats are living in a militaristic society, overseen by an evil dictator named Killdeer and his primary law enforcer, a big white rat named Billycan – the only white rat in the “Catacombs.” Unknown to these villainous leaders, however, there is also a small group of heroic rats living underneath the Catacombs, who are planning to free its oppressed citizens and build a much better society for them all. The leader of these heroes is a rat named Juniper, who was once the arch enemy of Billycan, and who Billycan believes he killed in a (very bloody) battle long ago.
Along with Juniper, there are two noble brother rats (sons of Juniper’s best friend), and a smattering of older, wise noblemen who are helping plan the takeover of Killdeer’s and Billycan’s society, and establish the free and just Nightshade City. In addition, the book includes a couple wonderful female rat characters, including a smart, spunky gal named Clover, and a mother rat (like me!) who plays a big part in the story. Now, I realize that’s a very vague description of these ladies. But, I’m not about to give away details you’ll appreciate much more by reading them in the book.
I should also point out this is the first book in a series of three. And, it winds up with a cliffhanger twist that definitely sets up some very interesting possibilities for the next one. At the same time, this twist involves a bit of knowledge far too obvious for Juniper to miss – though it seems we’re led to believe he has. Still, it sure made my whiskers twitch in anticipation wondering what might come of this situation! Again, I don’t want to ruin the surprise of it for anyone so won’t say anymore – except that, I guess we’ll have to wait and see how the matter is resolved when the tale picks up in volume two.
Thankfully, we won’t have to wait very long. As of this writing, volume two (entitled The White Assassin) is less than weeks away! Of course, that means I’d better wrap this up so you can get the first book finished by the time it arrives. Besides, I think it’s time for a snack. Happy reading – and I’ll see you at the bookstore!
First, I have to say this is the first rodent book I’ve read aimed at audiences so young (ages 2-6). That said, I may not be the foremost autho-rat-y on how it stacks up against others of its kind. What’s more, it doesn’t have any rat characters at all – but, like The Tale of Desperaux reviewed below, it does feature the cutest little mouse…which is a close enough ratlative for a mom like me to enjoy it just the same! And, having had 15 kids of my own, I know the subject matter of a little one wanting something so badly it’s all he talks or dreams about, is one moms of rat, mouse – or, I suppose even human – children, can universally relate to. Of course, my kids always seemed to dream about things like ice cream, or cake with sugary icing or – oh my, I’m making myself start dreaming of those things! Well, I’ve heard it said apples don’t fall very far from the tree, so it’s not too hard to imagine my kids were always thinking of (wonderful, delectable) food!!!
Back to this story, though, the little mouse in it is named Marshall, and he’s very good at playing ball – not the kind of ball my Clancy used to play as a kid (which was picking a ball up with his teeth, tossing it a short distance away, retrieving it, then starting all over again — that’s a picture of him sleeping by his favorite ball once he got tired). No, Marshall plays “real” ball, like human kids do – the kind that involves being very fast at running bases and such. So, when he sees the most lovely pair of green high-top sneakers like human kids wear for this game – well, he’s sure he needs those as much as my kids needed tasty treats!
Even though his mom and dad and the uncles he lives with know he doesn’t “need” sneakers or anything else to be a better ball player – or to be more “special” (as he thinks the shoes will make him) – being kind, doting family members, they still want to make his wish come true. So, they actually manage to sew a pair of green high-tops just for him as a surprise. And, Marshall does get a surprise – but not exactly the one he was expecting.
I don’t want to say any more than that and give away the whole story. But, I can tell you there are a bunch of different ways to look at the tale and a lot of different lessons different folks might take away from it. And, the pictures are adoratble – particularly of his beautiful mom, Mabel (who wears a string of pearls just like the ones on my favorite Christmas dress!) and very funny dad, Mortimer (who wears glasses! I must say I could use a pair of those – we rats don’t have the best eyesight, you know…). And, the ones of Marshall jumping around when he first puts on his high-tops are simply rat – uh, I guess I mean, mouse-tastic!
In closing, I have to say thanks to the author and her representative on Facebook for holding the drawing that won me this book as the prize. As I told them, it’s not easy for a rat to pick out her own books at the library. Far too many humans just don’t understand how wonderful we are…and I’ve learned that the sight of me sometimes causes quite a stir! Maybe with a few more books that show rodents can be as cute as Marshall, all that will change one day. In the meantime, though, you humans reading this can go buy your own copy at the bookstore. But I warn you – although no one is likely to scream when they see you there, you might squeal with delight when you get home and meet Marshall, his family, and the ladies who’ve created them. That said –proceed at your own risk!
When I heard The Tale of Despereaux would soon be coming out as a movie a few weeks ago, I pulled out the (dreaded) book (buried deep under the bedding of my nest) and wrote a review on it. The reason I did this was to set the record straight that rats aren’t mean, ugly horrible creatures whose only purpose in life is to make others suffer and who could never appreciate light or beauty or kindness or – oh, there goes my fur all standing up on end again at the very thought of the author’s nonsense. Anyway, sorry about getting carried away and screeching so fast about all that. Today I’m supposed to be talking about the film which shares the book’s name – and, of course, the title character: an exceptionally small mouse with exceptionally big ears, who’s born without any of the fears characteristic of his society, and who dreams of becoming an honorable and courageous knight like the one he reads about in a book he’s supposed to be eating instead. Thankfully, however, that’s about where the similarities end. That said, I’ll try to smooth my fur out one more time and tell you a little bit about this other – and from a rat’s perspective – much better rodent tale.
At first, though, I have to admit I wasn’t so sure I’d be able to say that. While the opening scene, which takes place on a ship, promised the rat-dapters had changed the story a great deal, part of the scene features narration that says, “Rats are incapable of telling the truth.” Oh! As it turned out, this was pretty easy to forgive when the next several minutes of the action introduce us to the rat, Roscuro (dressed in the cutest little pirate outfit!) and not only make the audience really like him, but also feel for the terrible predicament in which he finds himself – and spend the whole time on the edge of their seats hoping he gets out of it!
It’s only after Roscuro is firmly established as a beloved main character of his own (and one whose trouble springs from nothing more than becoming a wee bit too excited about food – and, oh boy, is that something I can relate to!) that we meet the little mouse, Despereaux – who, as the best part of the book, is even more adorable when brought to life on screen. Here, however, the extent of his different-ness from the other mice is illust-rat-ed in greater detail, and unlike in the book, his parents (and even his brother Furlough) are genuinely caring about him from the start. It’s also particularly wonderful to see him actually reading the book he’s been left in the library to eat (he runs up and down the hills and valleys along the lines of printing, savoring each word), and to watch (when charged with the unenviable task of helping Despereaux act more like a mouse) how utterly futile are poor Furlough’s efforts to teach him to be afraid.
Despereaux, as it turns out, has much to teach the mouse society – and some other species, too – but because (as the film points out) a hero only appears when a need for him arises, circumstances in the kingdom are pretty dire when he shows up. But, Despereaux, immersed in his own world of chivalrous adventures and a love of everything around him, barely notices the pervasive gloom – until, enchanted by the beauty of a princess and a piece of the book he’s been reading suddenly come to life in the form of her friendship, things at last grow pretty dark for Despereaux himself.
That’s where we meet Roscuro once again – and where the movie deviates tremendously once more from the book. While I don’t want to give away too much before you see it for yourself – and see it you should – I’ll just say it’s out of this darkness that begins a common journey back to the light, not only for Despereaux and Roscuro, but the entire kingdom of Dor. It must be added that it’s a rather strange journey in many ways, featuring one particularly strange character who isn’t even mentioned in the book, and a very different role for another – and a somewhat different ending for all.
The Tale of Despereaux doesn’t compare with Ratatouille, in my opinion (not that any other movie I’ve seen comes close), nor does it feature quite that level of rat-istry – I mean, artistry in its creation. If you’ve got a rodent tail dear to your heart, however, I’d say it’s nonetheless well worth the trip to the theater – and I expect that even though I’ve already seen it myself, I’ll be scampering out for a copy when it comes out on DVD.
Well, I could say more, but I think I smell…mmm – soup! Enjoy the movie. Gotta run!
(original book version)
I actually first read this book a very long time ago – which probably makes you wonder why I didn’t review it way back then. Well, to tell you the truth, I didn’t really want to talk about it.
All this time later, however, someone has made a movie out of it…and that means lots of hu-men and hu-women will be talking about it soon. So, at last, I think I have no choice but to offer a real rat’s point of view about a work that is unmistakably fiction.
Based on that introduction, you’re probably thinking that if I had to give The Tale of Despereaux a rating it would surely be two paws down. But, to tell you the truth, it would really be more like one paw way down, and another way up in the air.
You see, there are a lot of things I like a whole lot about this story – such as its ratcognition “that an interesting fate…awaits almost everyone, mouse or man, who does not conform.” Even more, I like that its main character has a great appreciation for literature (like me!), and that he learns from just one experience how wonderful interaction with hu-people can be. And, I don’t even really mind that this main character’s a mouse (especially since he really is an incredibly charming one). What I do mind, however, is that throughout the entire book, rats are said to be evil and ugly and hideous and that our tails are “scaly and cold” – like “a small, narrow snake”! Can you imagine? Oh! I was so hor-rat-fied when I read those words I almost shut the book and took a big bite out of it right there. The problem is, just when that paragraph pops up, Despereaux is in a real predicament – and, as that mouse hero himself points out, if one eats the pages it “ruins the story”. So, I just took a minute to try and smooth out my fur that was standing up all over, and then went back to try and finish my reading.
That said, I suppose I should tell all of you a little bit about this story, shouldn’t I? Well, it starts out with the birth of an exceptionally tiny mouse who isn’t at all like the other mice in his society. These do, in fact, eat books, but he refuses because he wants to read them instead. And, wouldn’t you know the first book he reads is about a knight who rescues a princess living in a big castle – just like the castle Despereaux lives in himself! As usual in my reviews, I don’t want to ruin the story for you by feeding big bites of it to you here, so let it suffice to say, this whole circumstance of being different, and reading and living with (and not just living with, but falling in love with) a princess gets Despereaux into a whole lot of trouble. There’s also a rat named Roscuro, who, like Despereaux, isn’t quite the same as the rest of his kind, and who, like Despereaux, has a special appreciation for the “light” of the human world rather than the dark shadows of rodent existence. When this lands him (quite literally) in the soup, and a tragedy unexpectedly results, he ends up in a whole lot of trouble, too – not to mention causing trouble for the entire kingdom when not only are rats suddenly outlawed, but the wonderful, comforting, delicious treat of soup is outlawed as well.
I suppose that all sounds harmless enough as a plot outline, but what’s really wrong with the book is that the writer has clearly never met any actual rats – or apparently, mice for that matter, because she actually thinks that for these creatures to embrace the darkness is to be true to their real natures. In other words, to her it’s Despereaux and Roscuro who are the exceptions. Still, she’ll give the benefit of the doubt that maybe a mouse could possibly be comfortable living in a world of beauty and light, but even after acknowledging that just maybe a rat could want these things, too, she never allows him to fully belong where they reside.
Of course, I know the truth is it’s the evil rats living in the castle’s dungeon who are the exceptions to what rats are like in real life (which is also true of mice, at least in my experience.) But, that doesn’t seem to have stopped this author from spewing all this (wrong) information (with her facts all upside down) as if she’s some kind of expert. Why, one could fill a book with all the things she doesn’t know. Come to think of it, that’s exactly what she’s done! What’s worse, this book won the very prestigious Newberry Medal, which means she’s even been rewarded for her ignorance. Oh, how my fur starts standing up on end again when I think about the injustice of it all… Well, now I guess you see why I didn’t want to talk about it.
Anyway, like I said, now there’s a movie based on this ratdiculous book. So, I may just have to find a way to go see it in the hope someone with a little more knowledge about rats and mice got involved and fixed some of these problems in ratdapting it for the big screen. If not, you can probably imagine the comments and mistaken ideas soon to be spreading around as fast as people think we spread the Plague. With that in mind, I thought I’d better squeak a little bit in advance so at least anyone who reads this might help me set the record straight. And, of course, I’ll be back next month for my comparative review.
By the way – a funny little side note to this…a cousin of mine was actually named Despereaux after this little mouse because he was so small as a baby. But, when he grew up he turned out to be the biggest rat anyone I know has ever met! Maybe he read this story, too, and ate everything in sight just to outgrow the name – or maybe it just made him so angry that he started taking bites himself…and ended up eating the whole book!
In conclusion, then, happy reading – or, happy eating, if you prefer!
Like I said in my review of this book’s sequel (The Revenge of Randal Reese Rat) A Rat’s Tale by Tor Seidler is probably my very fav-o-rat book of all time…well, at least of all the rat books I’ve read to date. I’m always open to scampering across new ones, however, so please feel free to e-mail me (by way of my adoptive mom, email@example.com) with any and all suggestions.
Back to this Tale, though, its main character is the sweet-tempered, very shy Montague Mad-Rat – who just happens to also be an incredibly talented painter (of not canvases, but shells brought back to him by his aunt from beaches all over the world). What’s more, all the members of his family are also artists, in one form or another – which is where they get their last name. Each is passion-fruit-edly…oops, I mean passion-ate-ly pursuing what it is he or she is “mad for.”
Unfortunately, not everyone outside the family is quite as mad for their creations, their way of life – or their name. Poor Montague, however, doesn’t know about all this when he first encounters a lovely she-rat named Isabel on a particularly stormy New York City day. Neither does he know Isabel’s father is the leader of the privileged wharf rats, well-groomed creatures who spend their days seeking out coins with which to pay their annual “Rat Rent,” rather than creeping through Central Park in search of feathers and berries to make brightly colored creations the Mad-Rats view as truer riches.
Isabel finds Montague unusual and charming, but it’s Montague who’s so enchanted he sets out to see her again, a quest that inadvertently lands him at a Grand Rat Chat – a meeting of the entire wharf rat community, called by Isabel’s father to discuss a threat sure to prove dire without immediate rattention. Also at this event, Montague learns at last why the young wharf rats he’s happened upon in the park laugh when he introduces himself. And, it’s this discovery that starts him on a rodent-wheel journey of highs and lows as he gradually comes to learn more about Isabel, his family – and himself.
Thankfully, the uppity wharf rat community learns a bit, too – like the reason “art and rat are made up of the same letters” — when it’s the things made with the Mad-Rats’ paws that prove unexpectedly valuable to them. Appropriately, it’s Isabel who begins this particular wheel turning, spurred on by the inescapable beauty of Monty’s shells. And, it’s this willingness on her part to bridge these different rat worlds that helps hers see how worthy of it Montague’s family is…and proves to the rat artists that Isabel might just be “mad” enough herself to be worthy of theirs as well
As always in my reviews, I don’t want to give too much away so have kept the details vague. But, I will tell you that even without more than a couple mentions of cheese – and oh yes, one reference to ham (which doesn’t appeal all that much to me, since I’m a veg-rat-arian) – this book provides a full platter of characters (both savory and not so) to satisfy every taste. And, even after several helpings – I mean readings – I still find every morsel of it (including the be-utiful drawings by Fred Marcellino) positively delicious!
All of that said, though, I have to admit that having come to love these characters so much and having found their adventures so intriguing, I am left more than a little hungry – for more Mad-Rat books by this author! I therefore plan to write him very soon to request that he get on with cooking up another!
In the meantime, by all means head to your local library or cookstore – I mean bookstore for this one. As for me, I’m heading to the kitchen for some brain food to help me start my letter to Mr. Seidler.
Since this is a sequel to another fantastic rodent story (entitled A Rat’s Tale, , which stars the gifted shell painter, Montague Mad-Rat) I realize I should probably review that book first. However, because it’s this later one that introduced me to the delicious dish ratatouille — after which my favorite movie (reviewed below) is named — I thought it might make sense to follow-up my comments on that film by working backwards. After all, you already know how carried away I can get when it comes to the topic of food! Be that as it may, I will try to publish a review of A Rat’s Tale, too, in the near future.
I should also mention up front that I think the original is among the most perfectly penned masterpieces of rat fiction I’ve scampered across to date (despite the fact it, sadly, doesn’t contain many tasty treats). And, while this sequel may not quite live up to that kind of praise, there’s much to savor about it nonetheless — and I do! Not only does it re-acquaint us with several beloved characters, it offers a whole new perspective on one I didn’t love so much the first time around…and didn’t love all that much at times in this one. But, in fairness I have to admit not everybody matures at the same rate…and the road to growing up and finding one’s place in a pretty big world can sometimes be a rocky and confusing one.
Of course, when one comes from the world of New York City’s privileged wharf rats, there’s no preparation for how to deal with the roadblock of a lowly sewer rat (one who — horror of all horrors, makes things with his paws, no less) suddenly being heralded as a hero by his own high rat society…and worse yet, finding his lovely she-rat fiancée instead marrying this “upstart”. Faced with such unprecedented humiliation, it’s not hard to imagine the title character, Randal Reese-Rat, might well wish for ratribution. The elaborate images of this he envisions, however, do at first shock the reader…but I have to admit amuse as well, since it becomes obvious early on that Randal is really far more a mere brat than a true bully or “bad guy”.
But Randal’s only half the story here since this volume also introduces a new character — an exotic she-rat musician from Africa named Maggie. Maggie is the cousin of the aforementioned “upstart” (daughter to his globetratting Aunt Elizabeth) who brings her to New York for the sole purpose of attending his (and Randal’s ex-fiancée’s) wedding. What’s more, Maggie is so charming and the music she creates so beautiful, her performance at the reception actually makes the guests in attendance stop eating to share in its joy. Of course, one witness to this who remains less than joyful is Randal. And, since he wants nothing to do with any rat of such hated associations, it proves a challenge to his sensibilities when he learns he and Maggie in fact have a lot in common. Eventually, though, he’s forced to admit she’s awakened a new rat within — one who shares very little with the egotistical creature he’d always been. In the process (one aided by other dismaying circumstances I won’t give away here) he comes to learn about a lot of uncharted territory to be explored — both beyond the shores of the community he thought he knew…and within the borders of his very own he-art.
Highly ratcommended reading. Enjoy!
First I have to answer the question you’re probably asking with regard to how I could already have a review of this film when it’s not even close to coming out on DVD…given rats aren’t allowed in movie theaters (except the animated ones on the screen in this instance, of course!). Well, all I can say to that is mom has a really nice knapsack-like purse big enough for me to hide in (and with lots of little openings for air). Now, I’m not saying she put me in there and took me to the movie theater or anything like that. I’m just saying she has a beautifully roomy potential pet carrier and here’s my review of this recently opened film. You can draw your own conclusions about the rest… I’m sure it goes without saying that a movie starring rats and with a title that’s a food starts off with a pretty strongly positive impression for me – and pretty high expectations to live up to. And, oh boy, does it! In fact, there’s so much to be passion-fruit about I don’t know which ratspect of it to bite off first. I guess I should start at the beginning which is pretty exciting but kind of scary since we see Remy breaking out of a window with a book over his head. Although it’s obvious he’s got himself into something of an Elvis we have to wait for the story to back up a bit to see how that came about. And, when we do we learn that while Remy is a rat (which he explains “means life is hard”) he’s also a misfit in his family because he longs to not only eat tastier treats than are usually available to his species, but he actually wants to create them in the first place.
It’s already been established in Mom’s review of the book A Rat’s Tale that “rat and art are made up of the same letters”. And so, Remy is not just a “rat” but a great “art”ist when it comes to food (hmm…I just noticed the word “eat” is in the middle of “create”. See, there is something to my being passion-ate or passion-fruit about things going straight to the truth of how passion and hunger really do go together!)
But, I digress. While I don’t want to give up too much of what happens so will keep this review short, the point of the film is that it seems Remy’s dreams of becoming a great chef are impossible. Rats are even less welcome in kitchens than they are in movie theaters. And, if Remy isn’t welcome in a kitchen, how on earth is he supposed to use one to “create” good things to “eat”. Well, that’s where faith and determination come in, in this case inspired by Paris’ most inspired restau…rat…eur, August Gusteau. And, when fate unexpectedly places Remy in the heart of Paris right under Gusteau’s restaurant he begins to face his greatest challenges – and catch sight of his greatest dreams.
Along the way, he learns (as do others who weren’t always convinced) that “not everyone can be a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere”, and that nothing is impossible if one is brave and follows his heart.
Maybe you remember that in one of my columns I was asked about one’s he-art vs. he-ad with the he-ad meaning “ego”. Well, can you believe, this film actually has a character named Ego who proves one of the most fearful threats against Remy’s he-art?!? Oh, I just can’t say enough times how this movie simply has everything a rat – and, from my mom and dad’s viewpoints a hu-man and hu-woman, too – could possibly want in a movie. It’s definitely my new favorite – and boy does its title make me hungry!
That said, I’ve gotta go….Mom’s supposed to help me pick out a recipe for ratatouille on the internet so we can try it out together. While we’re doing that, I suggest you go see the film Ratatouille and have the most fun anyone possibly can… without actually eating something that looks and sounds sooooo good.
11/07 P.S. Ratatouille is now available on DVD!!! Go rent — or better yet buy it NOW