Though Fourth Grade Rats has recently received a makeover in time for the publication of its prequel, Third Grade Angels, it’s actually an older title, which was first published in 1991. While Third Grade Angels focuses on Suds’s attempt to be the most angelic member of his class, Fourth Grade Rats is about his quest to follow his friend Joey’s lead and become a rat. According to Joey, rats say no to their mothers, carry their lunches in bags, not lunchboxes, and they never cry or get scared. Suds tries to live up to all these rules, but he’s so used to being good, it’s hard to change his ways.
The first thing I noticed about this book, sadly, was an error in continuity. In the prequel, which I read just a few days before reading Fourth Grade Rats, Suds meets Joey on the first day of school. In Fourth Grade Rats, though, the boys reminisce about something that happened to them two summers ago on the Fourth of July. For them to have this shared memory, they would have had to meet prior to the first day of third grade. I read a paperback edition of Fourth Grade Rats, with a 1991 copyright date, so I guess it’s possible that the story line has been edited in the 2012 version so that the two books match, but even so, this error is going to be obvious to kids who are reading aged library copies of Fourth Grade Rats alongside their brand-new copies of Third Grade Angels.
Another thing I noticed quickly is that I didn’t like Fourth Grade Rats as much as Third Grade Angels. This surprised me, because I almost always think the original story is better, but in this case, I didn’t think the writing was quite as distinctive in this book as it is in the newer one. Though Suds takes baths in both stories, I thought the effects of the bath on his well-being were described much more effectively in Third Grade Angels. I also thought his crush on Judy, and Judy herself, were more interesting in Third Grade Angels.
All of this is making it sound like I didn’t enjoy Fourth Grade Rats, and that isn’t true. The story is quick, funny, and clever. Parents who worry about stories that glorify disobedience will love the moral, and kids will enjoy the silly things the boys do to prove they are rats. I also enjoyed the illustrations in the particular edition that I read, which were filled with great early 90s fashion and hairstyles like this:
Fourth Grade Rats has really stood the test of time, but I think it’s also interesting to note how much Jerry Spinelli has evolved as a writer in 20 years. Fourth Grade Rats was good, but Third Grade Angels is even better. I will definitely recommend both books to my library’s third- and fourth-grade chapter book readers.
I borrowed Fourth Grade Rats from my local public library.