Friday, November 15, 2013

The Highway Rat - a review

As a very young girl, one of my favorite books was an old copy of The Fireside Book of Folk Songs. I loved songs with risk and daring.  I was especially fond of singing sea shanties, but my favorite song was "The Wraggle-Taggle Gypsies, O!"  In my mind it was so exotic and exiting. If gypsies had come to my apartment with a wagon, I would have gone with them in a heartbeat!  My taste in poetry was similar, and one of my favorites was "The Highwayman" by Alfred Noyes, first published in 1906.  A dramatic, narrative poem, "The Highwayman" is a tragic love story about a robber and a landlord's daughter.  Hardly a likely poem for an elementary school child, but I loved it.

That is why I was so excited when I saw the cover for The Highway Rat. I immediately knew that it was based on the Noyes poem.  I was ready to like it before I even opened the book, and I was not disappointed.

Donaldson, Julia.  2013. The Highway Rat. New York: Scholastic.

Illustrated by Axel Scheffler.
Review copy provided by the publisher.

Using the same rhyme scheme as the classic poem, "The Highwayman" (AABCCB), Julia Donaldson has done a spectacular job of remaining true to the meter, rhyme and mood of the original, while writing for a much younger audience.

The Highway Rat was a baddie.
     The Highway Rat was a beast.
He took what he wanted and ate what he took.
     His life was one long feast.
His teeth were sharp and yellow,
     his manners were rough and rude,
And the Highway Rat went riding --
     Riding -- riding --
Riding along the highway
     and stealing the travelers' food.

Accompanied by Axel Scheffler's vibrantly colored paintings, the story is bursting with energy - the eyes of the frightened animals wide with fear, the skies dark and foreboding. Heavy black outlining adds mood and shadow. The clever, "plucky" duck, however, offers readers the security that all will be well in the end. Her knowing look belies her simplistic dress.  It is she who leads The Highway Rat to his comeuppance and frees the rest of the animals from the rat's nightly thieving. He may not come upon the tragic end that Noyes' highwayman did, but the rat's larcenous ways do bring him to a tragic end,

As the animals rejoice and share the rat's plunder,

A thinner and grayer and meeker Rat,
     he robs on the road no more,
For he landed a job in a cake shop --
     A cake shop -- a cake shop --
And they say he still works in the cake shop,
     sweeping the cake shop floor.

I love this one! Little listeners will a flair for the dramatic will love it, too!

Poetry Friday is a weekly roundup of poetry posts and may feature original poems, favorite poems,  poetry book reviews, or poetry-related commentary and news.  Today's roundup is at Jama's Alphabet Soup.


  1. Oh, this sounds so good! Love the foodie references. Must look for it. Thanks for the great review. :)

  2. Oh I so love the tandem of Donaldson and Scheffler. I agree with Jama, the poems sound delightful. Will have to look for this one! Thanks for sharing.