Near the beginning of Tor Seidler’s delightful new novel, Oh, Rats!, Phoenix, an athletic young squirrel in the prime of his life, is admiring his own reflection in the still waters of a pond near his home in Manahawkin, New Jersey, when he is suddenly whisked away by a predatory but good-natured red-tailed hawk named Walter. When Walter is distracted by a low-flying airplane, Phoenix finds himself in a free fall over Manhattan. The force of Phoenix’s fall is broken by the leaf-covered limbs of a sycamore tree, before he tumbles into the steaming-hot tar of newly paved street below. After cooling his burns in the Hudson River, Phoenix finds temporary shelter with a community of wharf rats living among the crumbling structures of an abandoned pier nearby. Most of the land between the river and the city’s busy West Side Highway has recently been developed into commercial property and scenic public parks, and when bulldozers appear on the scene one morning to level the rats’ home, Phoenix and his friends are faced with the prospect of homelessness unless they can find a way to stop the demolition. Through a daring plan that requires scaling tall buildings and short-circuiting electric power grids, Phoenix singlehandedly brings the entire city to a halt, gaining public support for the rats’ cause and saving his new friends’ riverside home. With Seidler’s colorfully rendered characters and lively prose and the expressive illustrations by celebrated children’s author Gabriel Evans, Oh, Rats! is both an engaging animal fantasy and an insightful introduction to such serious themes as homelessness, xenophobia, the human and environmental costs of commercial development, and the power of civic action.
David Shirley ©2019 Parents’ Choice
David Shirley’s recent nonfiction titles include A History of Brooklyn Bridge Park and Fix It Leroy! His YA biographies, Every Day I Sing the Blues: The Story of B. B. King and Satchel Paige: Baseball Legend were honored as the New York Public Library’s Best Books for Teens.