Book: The Infamous Ratsos Are Not Afraid
Author: Kara LaReau
Illustrator: Matt Myers
Age Range: 6-9
The Infamous Ratsos Are Not Afraid is the sequel to The Infamous Ratsos (reviewed here), in what I hope will be a continuing early reader/early chapter book series by Kara LaReau, illustrated by Matt Myers. Brothers Louie and Ralphie live with their dad, Big Lou, and the memory of their deceased mother. In this book, the brothers decide to clean up a vacant lot in their neighborhood so that they can set up carnival-style arcade games for their friends. In the course of the project, both brothers have to overcome fears. For Louie, it's a fear of ghosts in the ramshackle house next to the vacant lot. For Ralphie, there's fear of being laughed at by his peers (over an incident with a girl). Luckily, the boys get solid advice from their father that helps along the way.
Can I just say, as a parent, that I love Big Lou? He's a good example to his boys, in a matter-of-fact way. Like when Ralphie talks about a girl in his class who stinks (images reveal her to be a skunk), so that no one has even gone near her. Big Lou says: "Then how do you know she stinks?" That's all, then he drops it. Then when Ralphie claims not to be afraid of anything, he says: "Really? I'm afraid of lots of things." Only when the boys ask how he copes does he say: "By reminding myself that I'm the boss of me, not my fears." All this while he's plying them with spaghetti and meatballs. He's this big, tough guy, but gives his boys the tools that they need. It's nicely done.
The Infamous Ratsos Are Not Afraid is what I would characterize as a very early chapter book. There are 10 short chapters in 96 pages, with full or partial page illustrations every couple of pages. The line spacing is wide, the sentences are mostly brief, and there is plenty of dialog to keep things moving. Here's a snippet, to give you a feel:
"Chad's stomach growls. "We'd better be done soon. It's almost dinnertime," he says. The Ratsos used to think Chad was mean, until they realized he gets cranky when he's hungry, which is almost all the time.
"Never fear," says Ralphie. "I brought emergency snacks for Carl."" (Page 15, ARC)
I feel like the formatting and vocabulary of the book overall keeps it accessible to very new readers, while the storyline itself retains appeal for slightly older kids (say first and second graders). There's a lovely vibe of kids playing unsupervised together in a neighborhood that kids and adults will find appealing. There's also a whole elementary school dynamic of kids being teased about "kissing in a tree", and the deep embarrassment that comes from being laughed at. But with a soft touch.
Myers' illustrations lend humor to the story, and capture a lower income urban setting that is too rare in children's books (brick apartment buildings in the background with lines of laundry stretching between them, various junk in the vacant lot, etc.). We see Louie's terror when he approaches the possibly haunted house, as wavy lines show him shaking. And when Ralphie stands up on a bench at school and yells out a brave declaration, any reader will smile at the image.
Although my daughter has moved on to reading longer, more dense books than The Infamous Ratsos Are Not Afraid, I'm going to give it to her anyway. I think she'll appreciate the central lesson about not giving into your fears, as well as less direct examples in the book of doing the right thing. All set against a backdrop of kids playing and working together on a fun project. What is not to love about that? Highly recommended, and well worth purchasing for libraries serving new readers.
Publisher: Candlewick (@Candlewick)
Publication Date: September 12, 2017
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher
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