From the Publisher
"A rip-roaring tale; even rodent haters will have to like Malcolm."—Kirkus
"Escapades, humor, and romance weave together in this madcap elementary school adventure . . . A first-rate debut."—Publishers Weekly
"This creature-feature leavens spookiness with healthy doses of whimsy."—Booklist
"Malcolm is thoroughly likable . . . a good choice for younger students who are reading above grade level yet aren't quite ready for heavier emotional or thematic content."—School Library Journal
Escapades, humor, and romance weave together in this madcap elementary school adventure from first-time author Beck. When fifth-grade teacher Mr. Binney mistakes Malcolm, a small rat, for a mouse and purchases him as a classroom pet, Malcolm develops an identity crisis. He soon learns that rats are held in low esteem by both humans and other animals, first from Mr. Binney’s read-aloud of The Tale of Despereaux (“Was that what people really thought of rats? That they are sneaky, conniving, lazy, greedy?”), and then when Midnight Academy members (pets from other classrooms) accept him only after he self-identifies as a mouse. Longing to prove his worthiness through “valor and merit,” Malcolm faces numerous challenges: Honey Bunny the rabbit’s distrust, Snip the cat’s evil plans against “the nutters” (children), and his forbidden friendship with fifth-grader Amelia. Lies’s (Bats at the Ballgame) detailed spot illustrations are a lively complement to the story, which is written in second person by an unnamed (but identifiable) narrator as an anonymous letter, complete with assigned classroom vocabulary and footnotes. A first-rate debut. Ages 9–12. Agent: Linda Pratt, Wernick & Pratt. (Sept.)
Children's Literature - Carrie Hane Hung
At the Pet Emporium, Mr. Binney purchases Malcolm as a pet mouse for his fifth grade classroom. Malcolm is actually a rat but he struggles with keeping that information a secret from the Midnight Academy, an organization of classroom pets at McKenna School. Aggy, the iguana, leads the group whose mission is to protect the school. Some of the members of the Midnight Academy do not approve of rats due to their poor reputation and Malcolm struggles with revealing his actual identity as a rat. Over the weekend, Aggie is discovered missing and Malcolm is the chief suspect. He set out to find Aggie and prove his innocence, along with improving the image of rats. Readers will find lots of intrigue, excitement, and adventure that keep the plot and subplots moving at a quick pace. Malcolm must deal with Snip, a very bitter cat living on the upper floor, and a mysterious ghost on the clock tower floor. There are a few illustrations that support the story which relies mainly on the text. In addition, there are footnotes that define words used in the story, providing additional information, or to share some anecdotes. This book makes a great addition to a mystery collection. Reviewer: Carrie Hane Hung
School Library Journal
Gr 4–6—"A lot happens in a school when the teachers aren't looking." Malcolm the rat learns that very quickly when he is adopted as the pet for Mr. Binney's fifth-grade class. After everyone has gone home, the school comes alive with the activities of the Midnight Academy, a secret society of classroom pets that endeavors to protect the school. Malcolm is accepted into it on a trial basis but runs into trouble right away when its leader, an iguana named Aggy, goes missing. The other members blame Malcolm for the disappearance, so it becomes doubly important for him to find Aggy-to ensure her safety, and to clear his name. The story is a bit long-winded, but Malcolm is thoroughly likable, and the action sequences keep the pages turning. Lies's frequent illustrations, which are soft and expressive, do a lot to endear Malcolm to readers. Some aspects of the tale strain credibility, like how Malcolm communicates with a student by pointing to words in the dictionary, and some plot elements seem somewhat convoluted or poorly explained. Overall, though, the winsome illustrations and Malcolm's appealing character make this debut novel a satisfactory selection. It may also be a good choice for younger students who are reading above grade level yet aren't quite ready for heavier emotional or thematic content.—Amy Holland, Irondequoit Public Library, NY
Malcolm is a small rat who is often mistaken for a mouse, which is both a blessing and a curse. As a fifth-grade "mouse" pet he has a comfortable cage, good food and a classroom full of interesting kids, and, amazingly, Malcolm discovers he can read! During nighttime explorations, he becomes part of the Midnight Academy, a group of varied creatures who are also classroom pets. They speak and have several sophisticated means of communication utilizing school bells, secret codes and even cellphones and computers. But there is a prowling, vicious rogue cat, and there have been thefts, disappearances and cases of vandalism. Malcolm is at the center of it all, always under suspicion but determined to use his rat abilities to act honorably. What follows is a breathless, exciting tale of adventure, danger, betrayal, twists and surprises. Beck unfolds the events in the form of an anonymous note to teacher Mr. Binney detailing Malcolm's journey, with clever and sometimes hilarious asides in the form of footnotes. Meditations on the nature of power and friendship are subtly and seamlessly woven within the plot. Lies' meticulously detailed illustrations in endless varieties of gray depict the highlights of Malcolm's adventures and capture each creature's individuality. Malcolm's mouse/rat appearance underscores the confusion as to his real species. A rip-roaring tale; even rodent haters will have to like Malcolm. (Animal fantasy. 8-12)
Read an Excerpt
It began with a rat. There was also a glasses-wearing elderly iguana, a grumpy fish who could spell, a ghost in the clock tower, a secret message in the library, and a twisted evil that lived on the fourth floor of our school. But those’ll all come later. First, there was a rat: Malcolm.
I know this’ll surprise you, Mr. Binney, but yes, Malcolm’s a rat. I know because he told me so. Don’t feel bad about bringing him to our class thinking he was a mouse. He is small. And that pimply clerk down at the Pet Emporium just wants to sell anything. I know—once he tried to convince me a goldfish was still alive even though it was floating upside down!
Remember, too—back then, last fall, you were kind of . . . distractible. Like a kid listening to his mom while Cartoon Network is blaring. Hearing, maybe, but not really listening. I know why now, but still. That must have helped the clerk’s duplicity.
So, I suppose, in an effort to get down the whole story, I should share how it happened. How Malcolm came to stay in Room 11 with us fifth-graders. I know you know this part, Mr. Binney, but I suppose it’s important to tell the whole story.
Malcolm doesn’t remember much before the Pet Emporium. Maybe he was born there. He does know that he used to be in a cage with lots of other rats. But they all got sold. People want their money’s worth, and the tiniest rat isn’t the one to pick. Of course, when you’re being sold as feeder rats, maybe that’s not the worst thing.
So, Malcolm was the lone rat in his cage when you walked in that day, Mr. Binney. You came in for fish food, but somehow you found yourself stopped in front of the “Pocket Pets” section, jiggling a little square box in your hands. Every few minutes, you cracked it open and peeked inside.
Malcolm was racing on his wheel. He’s very fast. Maybe you weren’t really looking at him, but you have to admit, there’s something about Malcolm that catches the eye.
The pimply-faced clerk noticed your pause. “Can I help you?” he asked. “Hey, don’t you teach at McKenna School? I used to go there.”
You jerked a little, snapped the box shut, and shoved it in your pocket. “Um—what? Yes, yes, I do.” You pointed at Malcolm. “Cute . . . mouse. That brown splotch on his back almost makes him look like he’s wearing a cape.”
“Mouse?” The clerk frowned and chomped on his gum. He glanced at the cage, then the frown switched to a slick smile. He slid in front of the sign that read rats, $2.99 each and rolled his gum to the other side of his mouth. “Yes, he is a handsome one. You know, ra—mice make great classroom pets. And they’re quiet and don’t take up much room. Smart, too.”
You both watched as Malcolm started licking himself. All over.
The clerk cleared his throat. “And, well—clean.”
Malcolm finished grooming his tail. He considered your conversation. Whatever a “classroom” was probably was preferable to being sold to the next python owner.
Malcolm put his paws up on his food dish and stared at you. You’ve maybe never noticed, Mr. Binney, but Malcolm’s got very intelligent eyes. Shiny dark brown, like steaming coffee. He added a little squeak.
You nodded. “Yes. Maybe. What kinds of supplies would I need?”
The clerk cracked his gum and grinned. “Well, let me show you our selection of cages and water bottles over here . . .”
And that was how Malcolm came to live in Room 11 at McKenna Elementary School in Clearwater, Wisconsin. With a three-story deluxe cage, a fleece-lined Comf-E-Cube, a tail-safe plastic exercise wheel, and a drip-free, antibacterial water bottle.
By the way, Malcolm wants to thank you for all that.