It's Day 29 of our 30 Days of Picture Books. We're winding down in our selections, and it makes me a little sad - there are so many more great titles we'd like to share, but that just didn't make it into this year's 30 Days list. If you're interested in checking out the titles we've shared this year and last, just click on the 30 Days of Picture Books tab above, or follow our Pinterest boards for 2012 and 2013 to see every title!
Our choice tonight is one we picked up because of Sprout's love for The Gruffalo. He was ambivalent the first time we read The Gruffalo, and in fact I don't think we even checked it out that day. But one of his absolute favorite teachers at preschool really brought the book to life for him. (Truth is, if Miss Valerie loves it, it's an automatic win for Sprout too!). So because he's come to love The Gruffalo, I knew he'd be excited to see The Highway Rat, the new collaboration by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. And even though there are plenty of sequels that don't live up to the hype, this one delivers on every level.
First and foremost, it's helpful if you have at least a passing familiarity with the poem "The Highwayman" by Alfred Noyes. (Go ahead and read it, we'll wait.) Okay, if you're good with that, then you're ready to dive into The Highway Rat. Donaldson translates Noyes' poem into a critter-friendly world, where the Highway Rat rules the highway, taking whatever he pleases. "His life was one long feast," she writes, and it certainly seems to be true as all the characters give up their food to the Highway Rat. But then one day a duck comes along, and because the duck has no food for him to take, the Highway Rat declares he'll eat the duck instead. However, unbeknownst to the Highway Rat, this duck has other plans. . . .
Donaldson's command of the picture book genre is evident here, as she transforms the classic poem into a piece that appeals to kids of all ages. Her adherence to the rhyme scheme is flawless, and she uses the form to bring readers the resolution they're craving. And as with their previous collaborations, Scheffler's illustrations aptly suit the tone of Donaldson's work, taking the edge out of what could be a dark plotline by translating it with visual touches kids will love. How many artists would think to show emotion on the faces of a chain of ants? That's a master at work, my friends.
The Highway Rat may be a baddie, but he's an adorable one, and his fate in the end, while clearly a punishment for his misdeeds, is one that always makes Sprout smile. A joy to read aloud, The Highway Rat is one you'll want to share with everyone -- kiddo or adult!
The Highway Rat by Julia Donaldson, published by Arthur A. Levine Books