Monday, September 26, 2011


By Colin Thompson & Amy Lissiat

(Kane/Miller Book Publishers, 2007)

This is one of those picture books I fret about. I like it. I like it a lot. I’m just not sure what to do with it.

A few of the illustrations may not be appropriate for younger audiences. These Photoshop-created drawings did not have to be the least bit questionable, but art often pushes us ever so slightly beyond our comfort level. The first drawing features a Baudelaire-inspired woman in a pink negligee, one strap falling from her shoulder. Tame, I suppose, but why is this necessary? Later, an obese man sits in a tank top and shorts (or boxers), hair sticking out everywhere including his upper back. Realistic? Sure, but why? (Perhaps from a rat’s vantage point, humans look as disgusting as we view the reviled rodent.) The final potentially offending picture portrays a naked cartoon-drawn man, looking with dismay at his image in the mirror. His butt shows while the man’s dog sits in front of the mirror to block any frontal exposure. None of the pictures is terribly risqué, but collectively they serve as a distraction. Without them, I could wholeheartedly recommend this book. With them, the book warrants a caveat, a PG rating perhaps. This is a shame because the story should precede any cautionary notes.

Riley is a rat, a happy rat. Born happy. His short, simple life is filled with happiness. As a rat, he lives in the moment and enjoys the simple things. He is not cursed like humans who often fall into wanting more, seeking different, wishing for another version of self. And that is the premise of the book. We may shriek at and scorn the lowly rat, but perhaps rats have it better. They have a healthier mindset.

Here is the rat’s take on possessions: “All Riley wanted was a little stick with a pointy end to scratch the bit of his back he couldn’t reach himself.” Contrast that with human desires: “They want microwave-video-dvd-sms-internet-big-car-cost-more-than-yours-gold-diamond-electronic-gigabyte-fastest-biggest-and-smallest machines.” Think you’re more like the rat? Really? Just yesterday I spent hours sorting and chucking loads of items piled up in the basement. Easy to toss the things after collecting dust for five years, but at one time, they were all wants...some even needs.

The rat’s got us beat.

This book is a wonderful discussion starter. Why do we want to keep up with the Joneses? Does money buy happiness? Why do people fall out of love? What will make us feel good about ourselves? Birthday wish lists aside, what do we need to feel content in life?

Maybe this book is more for adults after all.


  1. i hate this book the drawings are ugly and the curls mt font is tragic. awful, awful, awful. terrible story too.

  2. Thanks for stopping by to post a comment. I am not surprised by your strong reaction as the art may have been intended to provoke. I do think, however, that the book has a valuable message, told in an original way.

  3. This book was read to me, a adult. I loved it. The message is great and am looking for a copy to read to my children.

    1. Thanks for posting a comment! I do think the message to adults is a wonderful one to snap us out of whining about wanting more. I have read it to children with a cautionary remark and they glossed over the illustrations, focusing instead on the important message.