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The Highway Rat
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The team behind The Gruffalo and other titles returns with a tale of a rodent highwayman whose "manners were rough and rude," stealing food from those he meets on the road. Things look dark for this animal kingdom until a clever duck-who is also an impressive equestrienne-uses the Highway Rat's gluttony against him. Scheffler's drawings always offer plenty of pleasures: his bold ink lines and glowing colors give these pages a comic intensity, and his characters' round, bright eyes exude a geeky earnestness. But this story feels like a missed opportunity. The Highway Rat always demands sweets and junk food from his hardworking, peasant-class victims ("Give me your pastries and puddings!/ Give me your chocolate and cake!"), only to receive the rather bland stuff that makes up their subsistence diets (clover from a rabbit, leaves from the ants, flies from a spider). Rather than make comedic hay of this incongruity, Donaldson and Scheffler seem chiefly interested in portraying the ho-hum selfishness of their protagonist and meting out a humdrum punishment: "And they say he still works in the cake shop,/ sweeping the cake shop floor." Ages 4-8. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

PreS-Gr 2-Inspired by Alfred Noyes's "The Highwayman," Donaldson tells the tale of a swashbuckling rat with mask and cape who stops hapless travelers and takes their food at sword point. While he prefers chocolates, puddings, and cakes, he steals clover from a rabbit, nuts from a squirrel, and even hay from his own horse. "The creatures who traveled the highway/grew thinner and thinner and thinner,/While the Highway Rat grew horribly fat/from eating up everyone's dinner." A brave duck in a red kerchief lures the thief to a distant cave, supposedly full of biscuits and buns. While he follows the echoes of his own voice deeper and deeper into the dark, the duck jumps on Rat's horse and takes the stolen food back to her hungry friends. Eventually he emerges on the other side of the hill, becomes a reformed rodent, and finds work sweeping the floor at a cake shop. Scheffler's rich, dark palette creates a brooding atmosphere just right for the Highway Rat's dastardly deeds, and his cartoon-style characters are a wonderful tongue-in-cheek contrast. Humorous details abound, including Gruffalo cookies in the cake shop from this British duo's The Gruffalo (Puffin, 2006). This well-paced, rollicking tale is a guaranteed storytime treat.-Mary Jean Smith, formerly at Southside Elementary School, Lebanon, TN (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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