I Was a Rat!

I Was a Rat!

by Philip Pullman, Kevin Hawkes

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“I Was a Rat!” So insists a scruffy boy named Roger. Maybe it’s true. But what is he now? A terrifying monster running wild in the sewers? The Daily Scourge is sure of it. A victim of “Rodent Delusion”? The hospital nurse says yes. A lucrative fairground freak? He is to Mr. Tapscrew. A champion wriggler and a budding thief? That


“I Was a Rat!” So insists a scruffy boy named Roger. Maybe it’s true. But what is he now? A terrifying monster running wild in the sewers? The Daily Scourge is sure of it. A victim of “Rodent Delusion”? The hospital nurse says yes. A lucrative fairground freak? He is to Mr. Tapscrew. A champion wriggler and a budding thief? That’s what Billy thinks. Or just an ordinary small boy, though a little ratty in his habits? Only three people believe this version of the story. And it may take a royal intervention—and a bit of magic—to convince the rest of the world.

Set against the backdrop of a Royal Wedding—and a playful parody of the press, I Was a Rat! is a magical weaving of humor, fairy tale, and adventure.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
From the acclaimed author of the His Dark Materials trilogy comes an outrageously funny middle-grade twist on a familiar fairy tale.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The latest offering from Pullman (The Golden Compass; Count Karlstein) is a witty romp with fairy-tale roots. "I was a rat!" claims the boy in a tattered page's uniform who appears at the door of a kindly shoemaker and his washerwoman wife. Bob and Joan take in the boy, teach him table manners, name him Roger and do their best to provide for him. But this wouldn't be satire if the makeshift family were simply to live happily ever after--and so begins a series of misadventures in which Roger (wildly unworldly and more than a little "ratty in his habits") is kicked out of school, appears as an exhibit in a traveling freak show, falls in with a Dickensian band of young burglars and ends up imprisoned and condemned to death as the so-called "Monster of the Sewers." Providing a hilariously overblown (but ultimately chilling) commentary on the doings of Roger and others are excerpts from the Daily Scourge, an utterly shameless tabloid. The author brings about the de rigueur happy ending when Roger's life is spared, thanks both to Bob and Joan's steadfastness and the intervention of a certain newly wed princess, whose cameo appearance reveals the truth about Roger's origins (astute readers will pick up on the early clues). Pullman provides poignant insight into a well-known fairy tale and insinuates its implications for today's readers. Ages 8-10. (Feb.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Publishers Weekly
For this twist on Cinderella, "Pullman provides poignant insight into a well-known fairy tale and insinuates its implications for today's readers," said PW in a starred review. Ages 10-up. (Feb.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature - Children's Literature
Satire, fairytale, adventure and melodrama are combined brilliantly in Philip Pullman's I Was a Rat. London will never be the same with the "rat boy" running loose. When he appears at the door of Bob and Joan Jones, they accept him as a child who needs love and is an answer to their prayers. Although he chews on pencils and eats with his head down in the bowl, he is teachable. In a series of wild adventures with intransigent bureaucracy, wooly-headed scientists and thieving scoundrels, Roger the Rat Boy is headed for the big E, the exterminator. The Daily Scourge, a newspaper, foments the cries of the public to "Kill the Foul Beast." How can Bob and Joan save the boy? Enter the beautiful princess. Is this beginning to sound familiar? A poor girl turned princess and a "rat" that becomes a boy. Read the book if you're in doubt and read it to your class. 2000, Knopf, Ages 8 to 12, $15.95. Reviewer: Jan Lieberman
School Library Journal
Gr 4-7-Distracted by mischief and some soccer playing with boys in the castle, a rat who was transformed as a coachman for Cinderella's pumpkin coach doesn't make the midnight curfew and remains a small boy in a page's uniform. In this spin-off of the tale, Pullman magically weaves fairy tale, humor, and adventure in this story of Roger, a scruffy little boy who, when he presents himself at the London home of an old, childless couple, claims to have been a rat. Is he a terrible monster, a fairground freak, a thief, or just an ordinary little boy with the somewhat ratty habits of ordinary little boys? In a delightful and witty parody of the press (even the title reads like a supermarket tabloid, and pages of "The Daily Scourge" are interspersed throughout the text), the author exposes the media's fascination with the weird, the sensational, and the horrible, all at the expense of the truth. And the parody is not confined to the press. Pullman pokes fun at government officials, medical personnel, philosophers, psychology, the Royal family, and human nature in general as a richly varied cast of characters attempts to figure out whether or not Roger is a rat. The author leaves readers with some thought-provoking ideas about living with the consequences of one's wish; about the importance of what one does, not who one is; and about the power of love.-Connie Tyrrell Burns, Mahoney Middle School, South Portland, ME Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Horn Book
Young readers will find Pullman's story completely entertaining...

Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.19(w) x 7.65(h) x 0.43(d)
720L (what's this?)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

I Was a Rat

Old Bob and his wife, Joan, lived by the market in the house where his father and grandfather and great-grandfather had lived before him, cobblers all of them, and cobbling was Bob's trade too. Joan was a washerwoman, like her mother and her grandmother and her great-grandmother, back as far as anyone could remember.

And if they'd had a son, he would have become a cobbler in his turn, and if they'd had a daughter, she would have learned the laundry trade, and so the world would have gone on. But they'd never had a child, whether boy or girl, and now they were getting old, and it seemed less and less likely that they ever would, much as they would have liked it.

One evening as old Joan wrote a letter to her niece and old Bob sat trimming the heels of a pair of tiny scarlet slippers he was making for the love of it, there came a knock at the door.

Bob looked up with a jump. "Was that someone knocking?" he said. "What's the time?"

The cuckoo clock answered him before Joan could: ten o'clock. As soon as it had finished cuckooing, there came another knock, louder than before.

Bob lit a candle and went through the dark cobbler's shop to unlock the front door.

Standing in the moonlight was a little boy in a page's uniform. It had once been smart, but it was sorely torn and stained, and the boy's face was scratched and grubby.

"Bless my soul!" said Bob. "Who are you?"

"I was a rat," said the little boy.

"What did you say?" said Joan, crowding in behind her husband.

"I was a rat," the little boy said again.

"You were a—go on with you! Where do you live?" she said. "What's your name?"

But the little boy could only say, "I was a rat."

The old couple took him into the kitchen because the night was cold, and sat him down by the fire. He looked at the flames as if he'd never seen anything like them before.

"What should we do?" whispered Bob.

"Feed the poor little soul," Joan whispered back. "Bread and milk, that's what my mother used to make for us."

So she put some milk in a pan to heat by the fire and broke some bread into a bowl, and old Bob tried to find out more about the boy.

"What's your name?" he said.

"Haven't got a name."

"Why, everyone's got a name! I'm Bob, and this is Joan, and that's who we are, see. You sure you haven't got a name?"

"I lost it. I forgot it. I was a rat," said the boy, as if that explained everything.

"Oh," said Bob. "You got a nice uniform on, anyway. I expect you're in service, are you?"

The boy looked at his tattered uniform, puzzled.

"Dunno," he said finally. "Dunno what that means. I expect I am, probably."

"In service," said Bob, "that means being someone's servant. Have a master or a mistress and run errands for 'em. Page boys, like you, they usually go along with the master or mistress in a coach, for instance."

"Ah," said the boy. "Yes, I done that, I was a good page boy, I done everything right."

"'Course you did," said Bob, shifting his chair along as Joan came to the table with the bowl of warm bread and milk.

She put it in front of the boy, and without a second's pause, he put his face right down into the bowl and began to guzzle it up directly, his dirty little hands gripping the edge of the table.

"What are you doing?" said Joan. "Dear oh dear! You don't eat like that. Use the spoon!"

The boy looked up, milk in his eyebrows, bread up his nose, his chin dripping.

"He doesn't know anything, poor little thing," said Joan. "Come to the sink, my love, and we'll wash you. Grubby hands and all. Look at you!"

The boy tried to look at himself, but he was reluctant to leave the bowl.

"That's nice," he said. "I like that..."

"It'll still be here when you come back," said Bob. "I've had my supper already, I'll look after it for you."

The boy looked wonder-struck at this idea. He watched over his shoulder as Joan led him to the kitchen sink and tipped in some water from the kettle, and while she was washing him, he kept twisting his wet face round to look from Bob to the bowl and back again.

"That's better," said Joan, rubbing him dry. "Now you be a good boy and eat with the spoon."

"Yes, I will," he said, nodding.

"I'm surprised they didn't teach you manners when you was a page boy," she said.

"I was a rat," he said.

"Oh, well, rats don't have manners. Boys do," she told him. "You say thank you when someone gives you something, see, that's good manners."

"Thank you," he said, nodding hard.

"That's a good boy. Now come and sit down."

So he sat down, and Bob showed him how to use the spoon. He found it hard at first, because he would keep turning it upside down before it reached his mouth, and a lot of the bread and milk ended up on his lap.

But Bob and Joan could see he was trying, and he was a quick learner. By the time he'd finished, he was quite good at it.

"Thank you," he said.

"That's it. Well done," said Bob. "Now you come along with me and I'll show you how to wash the bowl and the spoon." While they were doing that, Bob said, "D'you know how old you are?"

"Yes," said the boy. "I know that, all right. I'm three weeks old, I am."

"Three weeks?"

"Yes. And I got two brothers and two sisters the same age, three weeks."

"Five of you?"

"Yes. I ain't seen 'em for a long time."

"What's a long time?"

The boy thought, and said, "Days."

"And where's your mother and father?"

"Under the ground."

Bob and Joan looked at each other, and they could each see what the other was feeling. The poor little boy was an orphan, and grief had turned his mind, and he'd wandered away from the orphanage he must have been living in.

As it happened, on the table beside him was Bob's newspaper, and suddenly the little boy seemed to see it for the first time.

Meet the Author

Philip Pullman is the acclaimed author of the trilogy His Dark Materials: The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass. His other books for children and young adults include Count Karlstein and a trilogy of Victorian thrillers featuring Sally Lockhart.

Brief Biography

Oxford, England
Date of Birth:
October 19, 1946
Place of Birth:
Norwich, England
Exeter College, Oxford University

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