Written by Alexis Deacon, Illustrated by Viviane Schwarz
Candlewick Press, 2011
What is this?
It is a small, dark hole.
The plot in a nutshell: A group of hamsters search for a new home.
Seven little hamsters grow too big for the mattress hole they are living in and they venture out into the junkyard to look for a new home. Scared of being out in the open, they each find something they can use as makeshift protection (such as gloves or paper tubes on their heads) but for most of them, the protection prevents them from seeing where they’re going. Working together, they cross an ocean, climb a mountain and cross a desert before the junkyard dog snatches up one of the hamsters and runs off with him. At first, the other six feel helpless, since the dog is much bigger. Then they remember everything they’ve accomplished so far and they chase after the dog, using their protection items to save their brother. They find a hole in the wall and see the wide world outside, where they will make their new home together.
This book draws you in from the very beginning, when a hole in the book’s hard cover reveals the group of hamsters (I am going to call them hamsters, although that is never specifically stated) on the inside page. Author Alexis Deacon tells this story almost exclusively in word balloons that tell us what is going on and how the characters are feeling about it. Because most of them can’t see where they are going and also because they are very small, we see what is actually happening and how they perceive it. For example, the ‘ocean’ that they cross is really nothing more than a puddle of water, but you understand how different it is for them.
The illustrations, from Viviane Schwarz, are done in ink and watercolor, usually with only a few colors. The protective items that the hamsters wear are always shown in bright yellow, which accentuates the differences in their shapes and how that contrasts with the sameness of the hamsters on their own. The pictures are sometimes in panels that show the action in progression and there are some double page spreads that use full color photographs to very good effect, as well. There are a lot of concepts at work here and I think they all blend together to create a good story that’s lots of fun, with a hopeful and happy ending.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that there is safety and strength in numbers and when with ones they love, even little critters can accomplish big things.