Synopses & Reviews
On a sticky midsummer day, when the heat and humidity kept most of the creatures in Central Park from stirring, a young rat named Montague Mad-Rat-or, to be precise, Montague Mad-Rat the Younger--was busy collecting feathers in the birds' preening grounds above the reservoir. Once his tail was looped around as many feathers as it could manage, Montague crept through the underbrush down to the berry patches by the Great Lawn. Here he carefully gathered up ripe, fallen berries into his mouth, choosing the widest possible selection of colors. These were for his mother, who melted the berries down into dyes to color the feathers, which she fashioned into rather fanciful shapes best described, perhaps, as rat hats.
When his cheeks were bulging, Montague beaded for home. The quickest way was by an underground drainpipe that came up in Columbus Circle, at the foot of the great park. But it always took him quite a while to get there because of his zigzagging route under bushes and park benches. Montague dreaded like the plague meeting other young rats. If they ever caught sight of him, they poked fun at him. Not that he really blamed them, considering his puffy cheeks and the bouquet of feathers in his tail. But once, about a year ago, he'd introduced himself to a group of young wharf rats in the park before he'd collected any feathers or berries, and they'd pointed and laughed at him anyway. Something was obviously the matter with him-but what? This mystery, haunting him ever since, had turned him painfully shy.
On this particular summery afternoon, Montague had made his winding way only halfway down the park when the air grew very still. It was almost as if the sky wereholding its breath. He poked his snout out from under a forsythia bush and looked across the Sheep Meadow. It was sheepless, as usual, sprinkled with the regular huge human children holding ice cream cones and balloons. But a faint sound came from the distance, as of a rat scampering over a tin roof. Suddenly there was a clap of thunder. The sky seemed to take this as a signal to stop holding its breath. The faint scampering sound grew into a loud rustling, and all the trees around the meadow bowed their heads before a driving wind. As the human children ran for cover, they let go of their colorful balloons. The balloons went up, the raindrops came down. They met, and the rain won, bursting all the balloons in a second.
By the time Montague finally came out of the park onto Columbus Circle, his sleek gray fur was soaked, and he'd lost half his mother's feathers. Columbus Circle was in a turmoil. Yellow cabs and delivery trucks were honking, and drenched people were rushing every which way, making it a decidedly unpleasant spot to linger. But just as Montague was about to dive off the curb into the shelter of an underground drainpipe, something caught his sharp eyes. A prim pack of rats was stranded under the towering statue in the center of the Circle, huddled under brightly colored umbrellas. Montague was surprised: he'd never seen rats with umbrellas before. A giant bus rolled up to the statue. One after the next, the rats leapt up onto the bus's back bumper, where they sat in a neat row, still holding their umbrellas over their heads. As the bus pulled away, a strong gust of wind caught the umbrella of the rat seated on the far end of the bumper. This umbrella went sailing andtumbling through the air, high over the traffic.
It landed below the curbstone a yard from where Montague crouched. Clinging to the handle was a young she-rat with bewitchingly beady eyes, which she blinked, as if mildly startled. She gave a sneeze as she climbed onto the curb, and then with her free forepaw she evened the bow of a blue ribbon that was tied around her neck. Montague had never seen a rat wearing a ribbon before.
"Gad, that was different," she said, smiling at him from under the rim of her umbrella, which was made of shiny plastic. "Did you see me?"
Thanks to the berries clogging his mouth, all Montague could do was nod.
"It was pretty exciting," she confessed. "Are you a wharf rat, too?"
He nodded again.
"I thought so, but you look so awfully dark, and your cheeks ... No offense, but they're like a chipmunk's. Did you leave your umbrella home?"
Since he had no umbrella to his name, it was a hard question to answer without resorting to words. He simply smiled. She broke into a bright laugh.
"You'll have to excuse me," she said, her gray eyes twinkling beadily. "But your smile . . . Where did you get those cheeks?"
He stopped smiling.
"Oh, I didn't mean to offend you! It's just the cheeks, and the feathers, and no umbrella, when all those clouds were piling up across the river this morning."
The thought of it all made her giggle uncontrollably. She clapped a paw over her snout to stop herself. Just then, another strong gust of wind swept across Columbus Circle, and it jerked the umbrella out of her other paw. The umbrella sailed away into the park, over the bowing treetops, growing smaller -and smaller until it disappeared in the rainy distance like abird migrating north for the summer.
"I'll be I" she said.
Now that the young she-rat's fur was in danger of getting as soaked as his, Montague extended a paw toward the grating, inviting her to slip through ahead of him. She stared at him curiously.
"You want me to cross the street?" she asked, blinking raindrops out of her eyes. "Hadn't I better wait for the light?"
Montague Mad-Rat lives a solitary existence in the sewers of New York City. His only delights are scavenging in Central Park for feathers and berries for his mother, and painting the seashells his aunt brings him. One day, he rescues the beautiful Isabel Moberly-Rat and, upon escorting her home, is introduced to a world he never knew existed. For she lives at the wharves, in a spacious crate, among rats who look down on those--like him--who make things with their paws. Suddenly Montague is ashamed. So when he hears about the campaign to save the wharves from human destruction, he does all he can to help. But how much can one rat really do, especially when he's an outcast?Montague Mad-Rat lives a solitary existence in the sewers of New York City. His only delights are scavenging through Central Park for feathers and berries for his mother, and painting the seashells his aunt brings him. One day, he rescues the beautiful Isabel Moberly-Rat, and upon escorting her home is introduced to a world he never knew existed. For she lives at the wharves, in a spacious crate, among rats who look down on thoselike himwho make things with their paws. Suddenly Montague is ashamed. So when he hears about the campaign to save the wharf from human destruction, he does all he can to help. But how much can one rat really do, especially when hes an outcast?A Rats Tale may well do for rats what Charlottes Web has done for spiders. NewsdayBeautifully told, Seidlers fantasy never falters. A grand adventure. A superb book. Boxed Review/Publishers Weekly A feast for fantasy lovers. The kind of entrancing reality found in The Cricket in Times Square or even Stuart Little.Pointer Review/Kirkus Reviews Like Charlottes Web or The Wind in the Willows, Tor Seidlers delightful new book, A Rats Tale, is suffused with humor, pathos, and moral beauty.The Washington Post Book World
About the Author
Born in Littleton, New Hampshire, Tor Seidler grew up in Vermont and later, Seattle, Washington, in both of which places his parents were involved in the theater. Encouraged by his family's love of the arts, Mr. Seidler studied English literature at Stanford University, and at the age of twenty-seven his first book, The Dulcimer Boy
, was published, launching his celebrated career as a writer.
Over the past twenty years, Mr. Seidler has become one of the most important voices in children's fiction with such classics as, A Rat's Tale, The Wainscott Weasel, an ALA Notable Book, Terpin, and Mean Margaret, which was selected as a finalist for the National Book Award in 1997. He currently lives in New York City.