Most people think of rats and mice as animals with really bad reputations. After all, many live in filthy areas where we wouldn’t want to go. They've been known to carry fleas that were vectors of disease. However, according to Roxie Munro, author/illustrator of a glorious picture book called Rodent Rascals, we are lucky to have them. Yes, rats are our friends. They come in all sizes and shapes and have been used by humans as a source of fur, food, pets, and laboratory subjects. What makes them a distinctive order of mammals? They all have a set of front teeth, called incisors, that never stop growing and make rodents capable of gnawing through some of the toughest materials around. Their constant nibbling wears the teeth down to a manageable size and allows them to build dams, drink wine (probably out of oaken vats, in which they’ve made a hole), hollow tunnels and crack acorns, among other marvelous tasks.
Munro’s book is a collection of rodent stars selected by size from the smallest—the pygmy jerboa-who can be up to two inches—to the largest—the greater capybara of South America—who weighs in at 150 pounds. She has drawn her collection at actual size, so all you see of the capybara is its head and its back leg on the previous page. As far as the “rascally” part, Munro gives us the most endearing traits of each selection to impress us with their cleverness, their survival skills, and their value to us. (Did you know there is a rat that has been trained to help electricians by carrying wires through small spaces?)
The value of this beautiful, informative picture book is as a survey of what exists so it can whet the reader’s appetite for more information. In the back matter of the book, you do learn more about the specific size of each rodent and more of its amazing abilities. These snippets of information make the subjects even more intriguing. If this is the first book a child (or even an adult) reads about rodents, it will not be the last. Munro's rodents have such appealing personalities. You might even add a new affectionate family member with soft fur and bright eyes and a deep understanding of the rat race.