Sunday, April 17, 2016

The road to Ratenburg by Joy Cowley illustrated by Gavin Bishop

The world is a dangerous place especially if you are a rat and you need to make a journey across the world of humming beans in order to reach utopia - or Ratenburg.

Ratenburg is the place all rats want to live and so we have the book The road to Ratenburg.

"Ratenburg! Oh, what a glorious place! Descriptions of its splendour had come down through history. Walls of marble lined with silk! Granaries full of corn and peas, dairies stocked with cream, butter and large round cheeses! Storehouses of German sausages and French pastries ... and the only humming bean ever to set two feet in that valley was the friendly piper of ancient times."

When their home is, quite literally, blown up Spinnaker, his wife Retsina and their four young children Alpha (girl), Beta (girl), Gamma (boy) and Delta (boy) set off with their basement neighbour Jolly Roger on a journey so hazardous you will at times gasp out loud.  Luckily Spinnaker explains right from the beginning "I beg you, do not allow our story to bring you fear.  This book has in it much danger and some moments of sheer terror, but all of it is history, meaning it is in the past and therefore of no threat to you."  I took this to mean our little family would arrive safely at their destination since this story is being written retrospectively.  Don't let this stop you reading though as the destination is a huge surprise for all concerned including the reader!

Now onto some of the dangers they face.  Before embarking on their journey the family visit a group of railway rats.  Retsina has had some past relationship with their leader who is named Signal. Spinnaker longs to know about this but Retsina will not go into the details.  Signal shows the family a precious map of the road to Ratenburg and since they cannot take this ancient map with them each family member memorizes one section.

The first part of their journey is by train and this is made more dangerous when Alpha is nearly caught and in her fright she jumps off the train.  Spinnaker finds her but in the process a whisker length of his tail is crushed. The next danger involves crossing a lake which is teeming with giant eels. The little travelers make a boat from a pot but have forgotten dogs can swim. "The terrier made a determined leap into the water and came after us with strong sure strokes."  Perhaps you can guess the fate of the dog.

By far the most horrifying mishap involves a vat of milk and curious Spinnaker, who having observed the milking process in a barn where the family are resting, now decides to taste the fresh liquid for himself.

Other adventures involve hawks, poison baits, a trap with the most delicious cheese and a terrible bog.

The road to Ratenburg would make a terrific family read-a-loud and the lively illustrations add to the fun.  Here is the web site for Joy Cowley - she is a very famous New Zealand author and we have eighty-six of her books in our school library!  You can read Joy's thoughts about this book here.

You might also enjoy A rats tale by Tor Seidler, The Song of the Winns, Mrs Frisby and the rats of NIMH, and Abels Island by William Steig.

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