Review Detail

Kids Fiction 285
Those dirty, thieving rats
Overall rating 
 
4.5
Plot/Characters/Writing Style 
 
4.0
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable) 
 
5.0
Otto and his Granddad are interested in homing pigeons and are training Homer to race. He makes good time returning to his rooftop home when they release him some distance away, and sometimes even beats them back! Homer has learned to read from the newspapers that line his cage, and takes a great interest in the human world. He also talks to Carlos, a park pigeon, and makes the acquaintance of Lulu, a parrot who has moved to the area with her girl, Charlotte. When Homer sees a rat stealing a woman's bracelet, and later sees other crimes committed by cats, he is startled to see the crimes reported in the paper. Like the comic character of whom he is fond, Dick Tracy, Homer wants to solve the mystery. It's not easy to do, but when Granddad's pocket watch, which housed a picture of his beloved wife, is stolen, Homer redoubles his efforts. By watching the park closely, Homer and his friends are able to see the thieves steal things, and manage to follow them to their secret underground lair. Once they find the culprit, though, they must figure out a way to communicate their findings to the children, who must then struggle to be believed. Fortunately, things work out, Addison Park is once again safe, and the children even get written up in the newspaper.
Good Points
I wasn't quite sure when this book was set, since there was a comment about the picture of Granddad's wife being taken "during the war", the inclusion of Dick Tracy comics (which are, apparently, still being published but which flourished in the mid twentieth century), and small mentions of things like pocket watches and fountain pens. This gave the book an air of a classic title, although it seems to be set in the present day. This is a great way to introduce young readers to all manner of artifacts from the last century; I wonder how an eight year old would react to the idea of a fountain pen!

The mystery is one that is easier for the animals to solve, since they are able to observe the world from a different vantage point than humans. It's fun to see how Homer and Lulu try to communicate with their humans through newspaper clippings and the squawking of seemingly random words! The perpetrator something of a shock, and young readers should be warned against climbing into sewers, no matter how important their quest.

Cole's pencil illustrations are the real draw here, and will appeal to fans of Garth Williams' or Brian Selznick's illustrative style. Sadly, there are no mice, like in A Nest for Celeste; I have a soft spot for pictures of mice, and some certainly could have been worked into the park scenes!

This reminded me a bit of Eve Titus' Basil of Baker Street, one of my favorites from my childhood, and joins the ranks of books with animal detectives, such as Hale's Chet Gecko mysteries, Gardner's Horace and Bunwinkle and Quinn's Birdie and Bowser or Queenie and Arthur books.
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