Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Review: Sadie and Ratz by Sonya Hartnett

Sadie and Ratz. by Sonya Hartnett, illustrated by Ann James. March 27, 2012. Candlewick. 64 pages. ISBN: 9780763653156

Hannah has named her hands Sadie and Ratz and assigned each one a personality in order to explain the way she sometimes lashes out at her little brother. Until now, Baby Boy has been too young to really understand this concept, but in this story he wises up. He starts blaming things on Sadie and Ratz (and therefore on Hannah) when really, he is at fault. It’s only after Sadie and Ratz take a vacation that Baby Boy’s own hands’ personalities start to come out.

When I was a kid, I named my own feet - Ootie and Bootie - so I was drawn to this book immediately, realizing that Hannah is a kindred spirit. I was instantly charmed by the tone of the story, which is very gentle despite the fact that it’s really all about anger. Though Hannah obviously gets very frustrated with her brother and hurts him, the book really focuses on trying to find constructive ways to channel those feelings. I also love the fact that the little brother has so much personality - he’s not just a random little kid thrown in as a plot device. The author develops him just as well as she develops Hannah, which makes the ending that much more satisfying.

This is a very early chapter book, and it fits well with the Mercy Watson, Katie Woo, and Nate the Great series, which really fill the gap between easy readers and chapter books quite well. There are very few words used in the story that can’t be sounded out. Naughty is one that caught my eye, and peculiar might be tricky for a reader who’d never seen it before, but otherwise, a new reader can decode everything in this story on his or her own.

The illustrations are also wide-spread throughout the book’s 60 pages, and they give great visual clues about what everyone is doing, thinking, and feeling at key points in the plot. Two images in particular really stuck with me. One is the portrait of a bawling Baby Boy on page 27, where his face is scrunched up and his mouth is open and ready to holler. The other is the drawing of Grandma and Baby Boy on pages 29 and 30, after she gives him a cookie. The look on the grandmother’s face is just so realistic, and I didn’t even need to read the text to know what she might be saying in that scene.

The book jacket notes that Hannah is the author’s niece, who actually did name her hands at the age of two. I love knowing that stories like this come from real life, and I’m sure the inspiration for the story is part of the reason it seems so plausible and the characters so three-dimensional. Sadie and Ratz was originally published in Australia in 2008. I’m very glad Candlewick published it this year in the US so American kids could enjoy its unique approach to storytelling, and its sensitive treatment of childhood anger

Other recommended reads on this subject for kids at this reading level might include When Sophie Gets Angry - Really, Really Angry by Molly Bang and Nina in That Makes Me Mad by Hilary Knight.

I borrowed Sadie and Ratz from my local public library. 

For more about this book, visit Goodreads and Worldcat.

NOTE ADDED 10/9/12: This book was nominated by Katherine Sokolowski for the 2012 Cybils Awards in the Easy Reader/Early Chapter Book category. I am a first-round panelist in this category, but this review reflects my opinions only, not those of any other panelist, or the panel as a whole. Thanks! 

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