6.01.2015

Ratscalibur written by Josh Lieb and illustrated by Tom Lintern, 171 pp. RL 4


Josh Lieb has a very impressive page on IMDB with some solid comedy credit, including several Emmys. His first book for kids, I Am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I want to Be Your Class President, had hilarious blurbs from Judd Apatow and Jon Stewart, who likened to the book to the baby of War and Peace and The Breakfast Club that had been left to be raised by wolves. Writing funny kid's books is not easy, which if probably why there are so few of them, even in this post-Diary of a Wimpy Kid world. However, with his new book, Ratscalibur, Lieb dives into a different genre - fantasy - and the result is fantastic! If I Am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I want to Be Your Class President is a mash-up of War and Peace and The Breakfast Club then Ratscalibur is a brilliant mash-up of the King Arthur legend of Excalibur and the Newbery Award winning classic, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMHRatscalibur is the kind of book when, after turning the last page, you smack your forehead and wonder why no one has thought of this before. Ratscalibur is also the kind of book that elicits glowing quotes from kidlit talent like the hilarious Daniel Pinkwater and multiple Newbery Award winner and author of a few books featuring rodents,  Richard Peck. However, the quote from Ratscalibur I love the most - and wish I had said - comes from storyteller Ira Glass who says, "The only way I could have liked this more is is I were eleven." And this is how I felt after reading Ratscalibur, and a handful of other favorite kid's books of mine.
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Two other things I love about Ratscalibur: it is under 200 pages with short, fast paced chapters, making this IDEAL for reluctant readers AND superb illustrations by Tom Lintern, another draw for reluctant readers. Ratscalibur begins with Joey reluctantly moving to the city with his mom, who has been offered a great new job. The city is big, loud, dirty hot and smelly. Lieb does a superb job setting the scene and describing the smells, which is essential because the underground rodent world he creates is rich with foul smells, half-eaten foods and cast off detritus. This world also has its own kind of magic, specific to each creature. Joey discovers this when the half-dead rat his hapless Uncle Joey brings him as a housewarming gift bites him, transforming him into a rat with one crucial mission. The rat, a Ragician ("Man does magic. Rats do Ragic. It's just common sense,") known as Gondorff the Grey, begs Joey to tell King Uther that he has failed...

Joey follows his nose, literally, through a wonderland of smells to a garbage mountain that now, surprisingly, is a mixture of delicious smells. Joey also discovers amazing new abilities he possesses as a rat. A run in with a cat leads him to King Uther's kingdom, Ravalon, where he discovers rats jousting on top of cats, food tributes, attacking crows and well armed rats. Starving and scared, Joey looks for anything he can use to protect himself, which is when he sees it - a "broken spork sticking out of the stale biscuit." Yes. It is the Spork in the Scone! I was on an airplane when I read this and tried my best not to concern my neighbors with my cackling, but this has to be the funniest thing I have read in a long time. This is some seriously solid humor and, while Ratscalibur has other moments of humor, Lieb is all about the legend and the rodents in this book and the action is non-stop. Along with Sir Parsifur, the handsome rat knight, Yislene, the Princess of the Low Realm, heir to the throne of Uther and apprentice to Gondorff the Grey, her loyal guinea pig bodyguard Brutilda and Sir Aramis, the king's vizier, the group heads out to find Squirrelin the Squagician with the hopes that he can turn Joey back into a human and help save Ravalon.

Along the way the group faces treachery, attacks, deception and a surprise ally as Joey questions his bravery in the face of the prophecy of Ratscalibur. Although set in the squirming heart of the Low Realm of rats, Lieb brings his story, both above and below ground, back to family ties, courage and love in a very satisfying and unsentimental way that I especially appreciated. Ratscalibur is the first in the Chronicles of the Low Realm and I can't wait to find out how Joey - or another human - makes his way back to Ravalon.


Source: Review Copy

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