Classroom Hamsters, Red in Tooth and Claw

BookendsLynn: Many many years ago, when I was a baby librarian, I inherited a library pet from my predecessor, a hamster of variable temper. It soon became clear why Houdini, as I ended up calling him, had been donated: Behind that adorable, fuzzy exterior was a misanthrope thinking only of escape. He slept by day and plotted by night.

Erica Perl must have known that hamster. Her new picture book, Ferocious Fluffity: A Mighty Bite-y Class Pet (2016), brings back memories of fleeing rodents and bitten fingers. One day, Mr. Drake brings a fluffy little hamster into his classroom. Of course the kids all want to hold her, but Mr. Drake wisely advises them to let Fluffity to become accustomed to the classroom before they try to pick her up. When Mr. Drake oversleeps, the class seizes their opportunity, and Fluffity seizes on the nearest finger to chomp. Before long, the little tyrant has everyone on the run. In the end, the kids learn a great lesson about how to keep Fluffity happy and their fingers bite-free.

Ferocious Fluffity by Erica S. PerlHenry Cole’s watercolor illustrations are hilarious, and I laughed out loud  throughout the story — especially at the page revealing a new visitor to the classroom.

Cindy: As a parent who has been bitten more than once by a visiting classroom guinea pig, I may be a bit biased about the important message in this fun book. The jaunty rhyming story enhances the read-aloud opportunities, and it also helps the children guess what animal might be waiting for them after they turn the last page:

In fact, he just agreed to let
His students get one more class pet.
Come by at two. They’re having cake
And welcoming their new pet….

This book will sure to be popular for the laughs, many derived from goofy illustrations of Fluffity chomping—he looks so cute until he bares his teeth. Adults will appreciate these illustrations, too. The book has a male African American teacher and a diverse classroom. The pages are dotted with drawing of school supplies and bulletin boards encouraging children to read. Books add to the school setting. A set of rules listed on the library door reads “No BITING.” Though many of us librarians may not care about the first two (“Quiet,” “No Talking”), we can wholeheartedly agree with the third.

Great Pet Escape by Victoria JamiesonA great read-along for slightly older elementary students is Victoria Jamieson’s graphic novel, The Great Pet Escape (2016), first in the Pets on the Loose series. GW, nickname of the second-grade hamster named for George Washington, uses his Hairy Houdini Escape-O-Matic invention* (think Rube Goldberg, hamster style) to break out of his prison (cage) to find his friends—a rabbit and a guinea pig. A night of chaos ensues that includes a cafeteria food fight, thanks, in part, to the older fourth- and fifth-grade class pets (mice and a snake). It’s a perfect blend of school drama in rollicking graphic format for young readers—and there’s a biter in this one, too!

*patent pending



About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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