'Rat' Pack o' Themes
Oooooh child! I’m always impressed when an author can take a child’s book and deliver some pretty adult/complicated themes in a way that kids (and most older readers, too, until they stop and take a minute to think about it) don’t even notice it.
Philip Pullman’s "I Was a Rat" is the perfect example of this. Pullman throws at us a multitude of complex themes including: child abandonment, the need of family, freedom of speech, the First Amendment, political corruption, socio-economic class, celebrity obsession, public sanitation and conundrums on how to digest ropes and leather. Whew! And that doesn’t even cover every subject brought up in this bad boy.
I Was a Rat follows Roger as he happens on the doorstep of a lovely elderly couple claiming, “I was a rat!” The book unfolds as Roger and his new family scurry along trying to discover where he came from and if he really was, in fact, a rat. Roger is convinced that he was, which explains why he flicks around eating the most disturbing things (I’m taking you back to that ropes and leather comment above).
Roger’s insanely endearing naivety not only makes you protective over him as some nasty characters try to take advantage of him, it also delivers those complicated messages in an innocent way. This is the perfect delivery for young readers who are just dipping their foot into the pond of complicated themes they will experience in more detail as they grow as readers. It’s also a refreshing look at problems that us grown kids can get bogged down in. The best message (cliché alert; I’m not sorry) is that ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether or not Roger was born as a four-legged sewer inhabitant, what truly makes us a rat is how we treat each other.