I Was a Rat!
by Philip Pullman
If the name Philip Pullman means anything to you, most likely it is for the His Dark Materials
trilogy of which the titles are The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife
, and The Amber Spyglass
. Due to the, to me, objectionable religious nature of that trilogy, which I have
read, I have trouble recommending them. However, Pullman has written several other books, including one about Spring Heeled Jack
, a fabled demon/monster/human prodigy that was famous in 19th-century England--a creature or person who could literally leap over a tall building with a single bound. The blurb on that book indicates that it views Spring Heeled Jack from the premise that he was the original "superhero." That book, however, I have not
From that same imagination, though, comes I Was A Rat!--whose cover suggests the sort of confession printed in tabloid magazines. And indeed, there is a running theme of yellow journalism in the book, including several "front pages" reproduced as the story goes on, mainly having to do with a Charles-and-Di-type royal wedding, and a sinister monster captured in a sewer and put on trial for extermination.
The sinister monster is actually an 8-or-9-year-old boy, physically speaking, who by a series of misadventures (of which he is entirely innocent) falls into the hands of the authorities. Due to a gonzo mixture of tabloid journalism and existentialist philosophy, he is mistaken for some kind of sub-human and dangerous creature (though he hasn't done anything more violent than biting someone's finger). Whenever he tries to talk, everyone ignores him, pretending he's just making animal noises that their minds erroneously interpret as human speech. Ignore appearances, the philosophy says. And, of course, being exterminated is the most frightening thing you can threaten this particular boy with, because until a short while ago, he was a rat.
Or so he says, and he's not the kind of little boy who tells lies.
Could he be mixed up in the head? Maybe. When he shows up at the door of a humble cobbler and his washer-woman wife, one night, they take him under their wing and try to help him find out who he belongs to. But the lost child office, the orphanage, the police, the hospital, and the school all prove unhelpful, then a series of unsavory characters from the Philosopher Royal, to a carnival huckster, to a ring of juvenile burglars, try to exploit him for their own selfish purposes; and the next thing you know, the old cobbler and his wife have to save "our little boy" from being put down like a wild animal. And the only one who really knows the truth about him...is the Cinderella-like princess who wished upon a star, and found out that when you get your wish, you're stuck with the consequences.
It's the familiar Cinderella tale told again from a very unusual angle. Also a very witty, smart, and grown-up story for kids. And let no one say that I hold a grudge. Little as I care for His Dark Materials, I do recommend I Was a Rat!
Recommended Age: 10+
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