CM . . .
. Volume XVIII Number 9. . . .October 28, 2011
Walter: The Story of a Rat.
Barbara Wersba. Drawings by Donna Diamond.
Markham, ON: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2011.
60 pp., pbk., $9.95.
Grades 2-6 / Ages 7-11.
Review by Meredith Cleversey.
Because he was a sensitive creature, Walter understood that Miss Pomeroy was lonely. It was not that the world didn't want her--she didn't want the world. Perhaps "solitary" was a better word than lonely, but no one ever came to the house and--thank goodness--she did not own a cat. She slept late every morning and drank black coffee for breakfast. She snacked rather than preparing real meals, and sometimes lay flat on the floor, listening to music. There were no family photographs in her bedroom, and she never made her bed. Her phone rarely rang.
One of the reasons all this interested Walter was that he was lonely himself. Rats have short lives, but he had lived on and on--the white in his muzzle a little more pronounced each year, his joints growing stiffer. He could no longer remember his parents, his siblings, or his many mates. Everyone was gone.
Walter is a rat, and an old one at that. He has led a fairly ordinary rat life, living in laundromats, restaurants, and dumps, hiding from humans and dogs, and scavenging food whenever he can. However, there is one thing that makes Walter stand out from the other rats he has known in his lifetime; Walter has the ability to read. He's not sure how it happened, but being able to read leads Walter to love books of all kinds. So when he moves into the house of an old writer, he is quite content to read through her personal library and enjoy the objects and food she often leaves around the house. But as time passes, Walter comes to admire the writer, a reclusive woman named Amanda Pomeroy, and eventually he does the unthinkable; he writes her a message, and thus begins a very unlikely friendship.
Walter: The Story of a Rat is an absolutely delightful tale of a reader and a writer, coming together in an unexpected way. Both Walter and Amanda are terribly lonely people, and it is through their correspondence that Walter finally finds companionship and Amanda learns to let go of the past and pull her life together again. The sadness of the two main characters is sometimes heavy in the book, as their loneliness is coupled with hostility from strangers, fears of growing old and dying, and the hint of love never realized, but the connection between Walter and Amanda is sweet and hopeful, as well as occasionally amusing. Ultimately, the narrative tells a tale in the tradition of a classic storytelling, and the emotions elicited throughout the book add a wonderful depth to the text.
Walter: The Story of a Rat is filled with literary references, and the occasional film reference as well. The constant references might be a little overwhelming for some readers, but for the curious reader, these references provide the perfect opportunity to delve into new realms of literature and experience what the world of books and film has to offer. Similarly, the text of this story might be too difficult for some readers to fully comprehend on their own, such as when Walter uses words he learns in books like "misanthropic" and "oeuvre." However, Walter: The Story of a Rat makes a wonderful read-aloud, and the challenging words or unfamiliar references allows readers to explore new ideas and concepts together, all while reading a lovely story about friendship.
Donna Diamond has illustrated many children's books and book jackets, and the illustrations for Walter: The Story of a Rat highlight her talent well. The black-and-white illustrations are a fantastic addition to the text, particularly those which are full-paged, as the gentle nature of the pictures with the details Diamond brings attention to really draw the reader into to what life for Walter is like.
Walter: The Story of a Rat is a beautiful tale of a reader and a writer forming an unlikely bond. The characters are few, and the plot is fairly simple, but the story is put together in a way that makes it feel like a modern day classic. The complexities of the emotions these characters feel, and the life experiences that are sometimes only hinted at (such as when Walter finds a discarded locket of Amanda's) create a world that is just as delightfully amusing as it is heartfelt and a little sad, making this book the perfect read for anyone who loves books, writing, or rats, and for anyone who has ever felt a little alone in the world.
Meredith Cleversey is a librarian who lives in Cambridge, ON. She loves to read, write, and live in a world of pure imagination.
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