Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat by Lynne Jonell, art by Jonathan Bean, 346 pp RL 4

I first reviewed Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat in 2008 and it has stuck with me ever since. Jonell created a winning character in Emmy and a very unique cast of characters in her magical rodents.  Now Jonell (this time with artistic help from the amazing Brandon Dorman) is sharing her curious rodents with a younger group of readers. Don't miss her fantastic new chapter book series, Magical Mix-Ups!

When I read a book with the intent of critiquing it and sharing my ideas about it with other people, it kind of changes the way I think about and even read a book. I am making connections, noting similarities and innovations and character traits and sometimes this gets in the way of getting swept up by a book, which is why I read in the first place. I love getting swept up in a book. And I miss it. Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat by Lynne Jonell swept me up and had me reading non-stop until I finished it!

I was drawn to the cover art for this book, by Jonathan Bean, when it first hit the shelves in 2007, but not the title, which sounded more like a book for a second or third grade level reader. Even the jacket flap failed to grab me. But, that is the beauty of the library. Books are free, so you can take them home and test drive them. This book deserves to be test driven and purchased, especially now that it is available in paperback. In addition to the an interior illustration, Jonathan Bean has created brilliant flip book art that appears on every page of the book, handsomely framing the text and tying in nicely with a key plot point.

And what a plot it is! There is a little bit of Robert C. O'Brien's Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH and a little bit of Roald Dahl's atrocious adults, but really the plot is all Lynne Jonell's masterful creation. Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat starts out predictably enough. Emmy is a timid, door mouse of a girl who is on her best behavior in the hopes of pleasing her absentee parents, and at the insistence of her well meaning nanny, Miss. Barmy. Or is she well meaning? And are Emmy's parent's really self-involved egomaniacs? Even the first twist in the story, Emmy's conversation with the class pet, a rat, seems a little predictable. But, let me tell you, once the cat, or the rat's out of the bag, there is nothing predictable about this story.

Without giving too much away, I can tell you that one of the most inspired aspects of the book is the collection of rodents, each one with a different ability that can physically or emotionally alter any human being who encounters (the wrong end of) it. These animals are being held captive in the back room of the Antique Rat, a shop run by Cheswick Vole, one-time assistant to the long missing Maxwell Capybara, professor of rodentia from New York and inventor of the charascope, a microscope that can see the character traits in a person's blood. Professor Capybara resurfaces in Rodent City, now suffering from a form of rodent induced narcolepsy which causes him to fall asleep when over excited. Professor Capybara, Mr Vole and Rodent City are all threads of the story that come together when Emmy and Rat, the class pet, or Raston as he is known to his family, realize that Raston has powers that go hand in hand with those of his long-lost sister Cecilia. The way I read the title of the book, I thought Raston would be the one doing the shrinking. Instead it is the recipients of his bite who shrink. Raston's first bite gives the bitten the ability to understand what rodents are saying. A second bite from Raston shrinks the bitten down to smaller than a Barbie or GI Joe. A third bite...well, you have to read the book to find out what the third bite does.

Jonell's characters are engaging and likable, wether human or rodent. The flip-flopping between all-human society, rodent society and mixed society is fluid and unified. The rodents seem like rodents, not like characters in a Disney movie, although Chippy and Buck Bunjee did remind me a bit of Chip 'n Dale. Rat, or Raston is the most developed character among the rodents and is bitter but also yearning to be accepted, both by rodents and humans, and on his own terms. My favorite rodent, and reason for the most heart stopping scenes in the action filled book, is the Endear Mouse, who has the ability to make the heart grow fonder in absence. The Endear Mouse's quiet selflessness and bravery are truly moving. A fast paced story, compelling characters, ingenious plot and creative twists make this an astounding debut from Lynne Jonell. But, what impressed me above all else is the seamless way that Jonell intertwines the rich, secret lives of the rodents, gifted or otherwise, with the seemingly typical lives of a shy child who only wants to please and her classmate, a soccer star who is pressured by his father to perform. The two disparate story lines combine to make for one of the most exciting, clever young adult novels of this year. If Emmy and the Home for Trouble Girls follows the plot thread that I think it does, I will be giving up yet another day of my life as I re-enter the lives of the inhabitants of Grayson Lake and the rodents who live in the walls around and underground beneath them. Book 3, Emmy and the Rats in the Belfry is out now, too!

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