Saturday, September 8, 2012
Malcolm at Midnight Review
*****Disclaimer: I am writing this review based on an advance reading copy****
Book talk: When I say 'rat' what words come to mind? Sneaky? Evil? Untrustworthy? Well don't believe everything that you read in books. Rats aren't all bad--and Malcolm is determined to prove that even though he is a rat he can still be have valor and merit like everyone else in Mr. Binney's classroom. Of course, Mr. Binney wouldn't have bought Malcolm in the first place if he didn't think he was a mouse. It's not Malcolm's fault he's so small though. As if being mistaken for a mouse wasn't enough Mr. Binney started reading The Tale of Despereaux 'in his honor'-a story where the rats are horrible, scheming creatures. Even the other class pets are prejudiced against rats. It will be hard for Malcolm to prove his worth with everyone against him, but maybe if he can solve the mystery of the spy that's trying to bring down the school, he will finally be able to prove that rats can indeed be trusted.
Rocks my socks: I love the premise and I have noticed the unfair portrayal of rats in children's literature before. This is a fun, humorous story but it could easily lead to further discussions of prejudice and how people may be misjudged. The idea that all the class pets meet after hours to keep the school safe has a lot of appeal. They extend the theme of judging based on appearances in little ways throughout the novel such as having the bunny character speak with a deep voice and act like a tough guy. Malcolm steals the show though, and it's easy to root for him as he struggles with problems big and small from trying to do the right thing to giving up chewing his whiskers. The ample pictures provide great, engaging snapshots of the action and include wonderful detail in the very human expressions on the animals' faces. The story is written as a long note to the teacher and my favorite part is the meta-humor contained in the footnotes. The narrator tells extra tidbits about the students to Mr. Binney and notes when he uses vocabulary words and includes the definitions to show he was paying attention. Of course, this also helps stretch and build the vocabulary of the reader.
Rocks in my socks: Between all the pets and all the humans there's a lot of characters and not all of them get the chance to be fleshed out beyond two dimensions. This is particularly true of the human characters. The perfect little girl character is entirely too perfect for my tastes and the teachers seem to have literally no life outside of school--all their romances and even events of significance in the past (thanks to their attending the school as children) take place on campus.
Every book its reader: I'd give this to students looking for a mystery and pet-lovers 3rd grade and up. Those who enjoyed The Tale of Despereaux should enjoy this rejoinder.
There's an adorable trailer at HMH's YouTube page
The author has her own website with news, an amusing about the author section, and a blog for her job as a school librarian with book recommendations and more.
The illustrator has a website as well
Source: free advance reading copy at #ALA12
Malcolm at Midnight by W. H. Beck: Buy it or check it out today!