by Julia Donaldson
Illustrations by Axel Sheffler
Arthur A. Levine Books
"The Highwayman" (1906) --a rhyming and rhythmic narrative poem of love and revenge inspired this rhyming children's story The Highway Rat for the much younger set. A mean but comic rat rides his horse through the countryside terrifying country creatures.
"His teeth were sharp and yellow/his manners were rough and rude/and the Highway Rat went riding/riding--riding/Riding along the highway/and stealing the travelers' food." He steals clover from the rabbit, nuts from a squirrel, a leaf from some ants, flies from a spider, milk from the cat, hay from a horse and the creatures get thinner and thinner. They are terrified of the evil thief until....
Finally, the Highway Rat encounters a clever duck. The duck tricks the Highway Rat into a wild goose chase. She promises that her sister--who lives in a faraway cave--has goodies galore. The Rat is tricked into believing the sister is answering the duck when the duck yells into the cave. She yells, "Do you have cakes and chocolates?" and the rat hears the sister answering (it's really the echo), "Chocolates! Chocolates! Chocolates..." The silly rat enters the cave and the resourceful duck escapes on the rat's horse. The duck shares the bounty from the saddlebags with all the country creatures while the rat wanders blindly through the cave until he ends up on the other side of the mountain. He gives up his life of crime to work in a bakery--at least he'll get to eat sweet treats there!
The rhyming story will capture young readers. The rat who starts out a bit menacing is comic later. The duck is the true hero of the story and kids will like the clever trick she pulls. Illustrations of all the animals are spot on for young readers. The two page spread of the animals celebrating captures their joy as they dance and eat goodies from the saddlebags. The menacing rat at the beginning is a meek mouse as he sweeps the floors in the cake shop at the end.
Highly, highly recommended ages 2-up. This book could by paired in any classroom where "The Highwayman" is read and used when teaching rhyme and rhythm to any grade level.
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