09 Mar 2020

Rodent Book Club - Ratburger by David Walliams, 2012

A cool piece of modern children’s fiction!

Written by David Walliams, a TV personality you might recognise from Little Britain or Britain’s Got Talent, among other things. It was kindly gifted to me for Christmas by a friend and foster carer - thanks Jill!
The presentation of the book is reminiscent of the Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton books of my own childhood, with their whimsical exploration of the disgusting, to the delight and horror of kids, interspersed with creative typography and illustrations. Tony Ross’s art style matches that image perfectly, following in the footsteps of Quentin Blake (think of the illustrations from the Roald Dahl books like Matilda and The BFG). 

It tells the story of a primary-school age girl named Zoe, who lives in an abusive home and struggles with poverty and bullying. Zoe finds a baby rat who she names Armitage, and has a whirlwind few days as the disgust of those around her send life spiralling as she tries to protect her new friend. It’s all presented in a very jovial and lighthearted manner, but certainly delves into some deep and unpleasant topics in a way still palatable and educational (perhaps even unfortunately relatable) to kids.

The overall message is definitely rat-positive, and most of the people (barring a couple who are irredeemable characters for other reasons anyway) who meet Armitage get over their initial disgust as soon as they give him a chance. Public perception of rats is definitely a key theme in the book, and creates an overarching metaphor for the treatment of Zoe by the people around her. Both are small, scrappy and hungry, and at one point a character’s actions towards both are justified in the same manner as a desire to “squash something small”. 

I definitely enjoyed the book, it was a light afternoon’s reading and I definitely enjoy children’s fiction, especially the type that acknowledges and helps children relate and cope with real world issues rather than pretending they don’t understand. Themes touched on in Ratburger include (and if you’re not expecting spoilers by this point, bail out!) bullying, loss of a parent, domestic violence, alcoholism, animal abuse and pet death, and I guess accidental murder, sort of? It gets very “Chicken Run” in the end there if you catch my drift. Walliams manages to fit all of this into a story which was tense in parts, and thick with some very visceral descriptions, but overall funny and lighthearted with a very happy ending.
A fun read, and an accurate representation of contemporary attitudes towards rats!

One sentence summary: Whimsical, funny children’s fiction about a neglected child taking in a rat and having her life turned on end as she tries to protect it.
Worth a read if: You like children’s fiction and got a laugh out of Andy Griffiths’ books.

By Rachel Greenfield

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