Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Sadie and Ratz by Sonya Hartnett

I am number four.

My parents had five kids; four of them six years apart. I have pulled the curtain on certain parts of my childhood such as when my older brothers tried suffocating me at the bottom of my bed in my bedsheets, or bamboozled me out of my Halloween candy, or broke my bed and pinned the blame on me. Yes, when we were wee ones, we had moments (gasp),when we were piranhas. And because I was the youngest, it took me awhile to figure out how to fight back. But I learned. I fought verbally and physically. The war of sibling rivalry raged fiercely at times as we learned to get along. Children's picture books touch on sibling rivalry, but they don't tackle it quite like this book does with its wonderful metaphor and revealing power struggle between the sneaky, clever siblings of Hannah and her baby brother.

Hannah tells this tale. She explains that her two hands named, Sadie and Ratz, can be wild beasts. Sadie is the bossy one and Ratz does whatever Sadie tells him to do. We then find out she has a younger 4-year-old brother that she calls, Baby Boy, whom she wishes was a dog, and gets angry with when he takes her things or changes the TV channel. When this happens then Sadie and Ratz wake up and rub Baby Boy's ears until he screams like a banshee bull. Then Baby Boy lets Hannah see what it is like to get picked on when he cleverly blames Sadie and Ratz for something he did.  Hannah doesn't like this one bit. She even sends Sadie and Ratz on vacation. But Baby Boy goes too far in a surprise ending.

Okay, I confess. I was secretly delighted with Baby Boy's retaliation. And yes, I did the same thing, getting my older brother blamed for things that I did. And he did the same thing to me. We fooled Mom and Dad sometimes. And sometimes we didn't. Sadie's hands as a metaphor of her as the bossy older sister who controls her brother is quite brilliant. Some Goodreads reviewers say the book is too dark and maybe it is for really young kids (I think they will like it in the same vein that they like Junie B. Jones) and while I don't think most youngsters will understand the hidden layers, I do think grades 3-5 will understand the deeper concepts and be able to discuss it.

Sonya Hartnett's word choices are delicious - I took the word piranhas from her story. She is a master when it comes to putting sentences together with great characters, pacing, and rhythm. This is the second book of hers that I have read and it is always a treat to see how she crafts a book. I was surprised when I first got this book because it looks like an early reader; however, one can delve into more complex themes with older students. Even though it is an easy, quick read (blargh - this review took me longer to write than read the book), don't be fooled because it's for all ages.  Professional reviewer, Elizabeth Bird, has an excellent review on this book and covers more themes that can be used for home, class or book club discussions.  I recommend reading her review.

This book won the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award in 2008 and it is easy to see why. The charcoal illustrations by Ann James enrich the text with the expressive faces of Hannah and Baby Boy. I love the pages with him screaming like a wild thing and Hannah contemplating what to do when he starts to get her back. The movement and mood is captured in the thick and thin charcoal strokes reflecting the characters and plot.

Even though we fought as youngsters, when I got older, my brothers did look out for me. Yes, we did figure out how to get along. Now I'm married and have a family. Except I didn't have five kids like my parents. I had one child.

That's right, one. Hmmm.

Reading Level 2.3
5 out of 5 Smileys

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