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"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
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.
Posted September 17, 2012
Malcolm is a rat who is suffering an identity crisis of sorts. He aspires to be a rat of “valor and merit,” a heroic rat. The problem is that his friends at the McKenna School, both human and animal, are suspicious of rats in general and mistake him for a mouse. Honey Bunny, one of the leaders of Midnight Academy, despises rats and claims that they are “skuzzy garbage-eaters who lie and cheat.” Malcolm aspires to be the rat he is inside, the rat he is when he is alone at midnight, while striving to save the McKenna School and the nutters who attend it from the evil plottings of a desperately evil villain, the cat Snape.
Malcolm is an heroic and compelling protagonist. Readers come to care deeply for him. The characterization of all of the animals in the story, from Malcolm, to Snip, to Aggy the iguana, and Beert, the great snowy owl, is particularly strong. These characters come to life in a reader’s mind, as do the nutters and Mr. Binney and Ms. Brumble.
Beck includes clever little footnotes throughout and the lovely illustrations by Brian Lies bring the story to life.
Malcolm is an adventure with many unexpected twists and turns. Some of the magic of the story is in the details, from the symbols left by the members of the Midnight Academy for each other, to the descriptions of Malcolm’s three story cage, to the dust and grime of the upper floors of the McKenna school. Indeed, the descriptions are incredibly vivid. I could smell Snape’s foul breath and hear her raspy voice.
Malcolm at Midnight should be on every must read middle grade fiction list along with The Adventures of Edward Tulane and the Tale of Despereaux.
Malcolm purports to be about a mouse, but it’s more universal than that. Readers come away from it reflecting on who we are at midnight, whether we are the individuals of valor and merit whom we may wish to be.
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Posted April 10, 2014
Posted October 20, 2013