Book: The Misadventures of Sweetie Pie
Author: Chris Van Allsburg
Age Range: 4-8
The Misadventures of Sweetie Pie is, like Chris Van Allsburg's well-known titles Jumanji and The Polar Express (and others), a text-heavy picture book. But unlike the aforementioned titles, The Misadventures of Sweetie Pie is a mostly realistic, small-scale story, told from the perspective of a slightly grouchy hamster.
Sweetie Pie (so named by his first owner) is passed from child owner to child owner as kids initially play with him, and then become bored. He suffers humiliation (as shown in the cover image) and (mostly benign) neglect. He is eventually lost and found, and becomes a classroom pet. But it is in Sweetie Pie's last adventure that Vaan Allsburg introduces a touch of magic (following a near-death experience that may be sad for the youngest of readers).
The Misadventures of Sweetie Pie is told from the hamster's limited third person perspective. Like this:
"One afternoon Sweetie Pie awoke to find that his cage had been moved. Something else rested in its place. Pigtails sat in front of it for hours at a time.
The girl didn't ignore him completely, though. Each morning she dropped extra-lage handfuls of food into his bowl."
The illustrations reveal that the "something else" is a computer, and that Sweetie Pie becomes fat and lazy, eating all that extra food.
I think that The Misadventures of Sweetie Pie will inspire kids (some of them, anyway) to actually think about things from the perspective of their pets, and perhaps be a bit kinder. It's not so much that anyone is ever mean to Sweetie Pie, but he is certainly bored and lonely. (Only until near the end of the book, not to worry.)
Van Allsburg's watercolor, pen and ink, and colored pencil illustrations are delightful. We see Sweetie Pie's grumpiness in some situations, and feel his fear when a barking dog knocks his cage to the ground. His annoyance when dressed in a pink doll dress is priceless. Despite having a lot of text, The Misadventures of Sweetie Pie in no way skimps on the illustrations, with at least one full-page picture on every page spread. The scale of the illustrations, some from Sweetie Pie's perspective, give the book a larger-than-life feel.
I can't wait to share The Misadventures of Sweetie Pie with my four-year-old, though I think that the real sweet spot for this book will be with first and second graders. This would make a fabulous classroom read-aloud for that age group, but would also, I'm sure, be a welcome holiday gift for home use. The Misadventures of Sweetie Pie is strong on story and on illustration - a wonderful contribution to the world of fiction picture books.
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (@HMHBooks)
Publication Date: November 4, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
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