I Was a Rat! By Philip Pullman Illustrated by Kevin Hawkes Alfred A. Knopf 165 pp. $15.95 Ages 8-12
This delightful romp for middle readers will surely captivate as many fans as Philip Pullman has bewitched with his fiction for young adults, such as the Sally Lockhart Victorian mysteries and the fantasy trilogy beginning with "The Golden Compass."
"I Was a Rat" combines a comic thriller with a familiar fairy tale, including enough touches of terror, tenderness, and comedy to keep even a reluctant reader eagerly turning the pages.
An irresistibly innocent little boy insists that he used to be a rat, living in the sewers beneath the city of a just-married prince and princess. Now that he finds himself a boy, he cannot drop all of his rat habits, which do not endear him to the populace, but rather endanger him.
Fortunately, a childless old couple welcomes him into their home and hearts, and gives him the only chance for survival. Contrasting with the goodness of the couple and their rat-boy, the town is full of evil, self-serving Dickensian villains.
The wild chases are tempered with hilarity and glimpses of abiding love, all the while being lampooned by The Daily Scourge, a sensational tabloid. Pullman also pokes satirical fun at city government, the police force, schools, and doctors.
Of course, good triumphs in this skillfully wrought and highly entertaining frolic. Teachers and parents will enjoy sharing this lively tale aloud, if their charges don't grab it first. No doubt young readers will identify the rat-boy and the princess long before I did. This is a book to ferret out!
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society