Thursday, November 15, 2012

Review - "Sadie and Ratz"

I’ve mentioned before how hard I think it must be to write a satisfying early chapter book. It’s so easy to fall into the traps of talking above children’s heads, or talking down to them, or simply equated easy with boring (hello, Dick and Jane). That’s why it’s so rewarding to have a book like Sonya Hartnett’s Sadie and Ratz. Here is a book that is right on a child’s level, and is wonderful and strange and just a little bit subversive. My kind of book.

Young Hannah has named her hands Sadie and Ratz. Sadie and Ratz are “wild beasts” according to Dad. Indeed, they enjoy “crunching”,“squishing” and “squeezing”. One thing Hannah, Sadie and Ratz do not enjoy, is Baby Boy, whom Hannah wishes were a dog instead of a baby brother. Sadie and Ratz do enjoy torturing Baby Boy, however, when he gets in the way, by jumping on his head and trying to rub his ears off. Naturally, Baby Boy is not very fond of Sadie and Ratz. When not-so-nice things begin happening around the house, and Sadie and Ratz get the blame, Hannah starts to reassess her brother. “[H]e was crafty.” This all leads to an unexpected but glorious conclusion.

Sadie and Ratz clocks in at a slim 60 pages, but there’s nothing simple about what Hartnett and illustrator Ann James have done here. Hannah and her hands, like Sendak’s Max before her, represent the wild thing in all of us, which when we’re children (and for some unfortunate adults) can truly be an uncontrollable force. Children will instantly understand the concept of Hannah’s hands, the personalities of each hand (“When Sadie grows up, she wants to be a dragon. When Ratz grows up, he wants to be a bigger Ratz.”) and will love the sneaky glee of the “twist” ending. Early chapter books are hard to do well, but Hartnett and James have pulled off a near perfect book. It’s a perfect stepping stone for Ramona, as Hannah is clearly her cultural descendant.

Sadie and Ratz by Sonya Hartnett ill. by Ann James
2012 (first published in 2010), Candlewick Press
Library copy

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