The Misadventures of Sweetie Pie


From two-time Caldecott winner Chris Van Allsburg, creator of Jumanji and The Polar Express, comes a poignant story of one hamster’s struggle with destiny. Being a pet store hamster isn’t much fun for Sweetie Pie, but life in human homes proves downright perilous. As Sweetie Pie longingly gazes out of his cage at the squirrels frolicking in the trees, he wonders if he’ll ever have the chance to feel the wind in his fur. Allsburg’s expressive, soft-hued illustrations artfully capture a hamster’s-eye view of the ...

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From two-time Caldecott winner Chris Van Allsburg, creator of Jumanji and The Polar Express, comes a poignant story of one hamster’s struggle with destiny. Being a pet store hamster isn’t much fun for Sweetie Pie, but life in human homes proves downright perilous. As Sweetie Pie longingly gazes out of his cage at the squirrels frolicking in the trees, he wonders if he’ll ever have the chance to feel the wind in his fur. Allsburg’s expressive, soft-hued illustrations artfully capture a hamster’s-eye view of the wide and wonderful world where maybe, just maybe, Sweetie Pie could someday run free.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Thinking of getting a hamster? Read this first. Caldecott Medalist Van Allsburg chronicles the bleak existence of Sweetie Pie, neglected by one child after another. The hamster’s first owner prefers screen time and sells Sweetie Pie to a boy with a hostile dog—readers receive a close-up, rodent’s-eye view of the dog’s slavering jaws. Next comes Cousin Sue, a girl with malicious eyes, who forces her pet into a clear plastic ball and rolls him down a hill (“Exhausted, Sweetie Pie waited for the girl to rescue him, but she never came”). Eventually, the hamster does time as a school pet. At the holidays, a boy promises “to take care of him,” only to forget him on a playground as snow begins to fall; Sweetie Pie sinks “into a deep and frigid sleep.” Van Allsburg does not play for laughs or pull his punches: when a teacher suggests that a kind child must have saved the icy hamster, “The children knew better.” Sweetie Pie’s grim and all-too-realistic experience raises ethical dilemmas, and a squirrel-ex-machina conclusion offers a happy ending, but little comfort. Ages 4–8. (Nov.)
Kirkus Reviews
A picture book about the difficult life of a pet hamster. Sweetie Pie is a hamster who, it seems, is doomed to be owned by a series of neglectful children. Originally bought from a pet store, Sweetie Pie is sold down the river, as it were, by a series of child owners who, when the hamster becomes no longer cute or a novelty, hand him off to someone else. Finally he ends up in a school classroom, tended by the children. But even then Sweetie Pie's troubles are not over. One of the children forgets him on the playground, and snow and darkness fall over the hamster trapped in his cage. Van Allsburg's illustrations, done in his trademark precise style, evoke a feeling of detachment that matches the oddly unempathetic text. When, the next morning, the careless child rushes to collect Sweetie Pie, all he finds is an empty, unlatched cage. He is contrite, but no one seems to care much—a guinea pig takes Sweetie Pie's place in the classroom soon enough. The good news is Sweetie Pie was rescued by squirrels and now has a great life with squirrel friends in a tree. The bad news is that Sweetie Pie's "happy ending" comes with no consequences for all the rotten children in his life and is wildly, even harmfully, unrealistic. Save this one for non-animal lovers. (Picture book. 5-8)
School Library Journal
PreS-Gr 2—Master storyteller Van Allsburg's latest children's book is about a frustrated hamster. He is bought by a girl and given the name Sweetie Pie, but she quickly grows tired of him and tries to sell him. As Sweetie Pie is passed from child to child, he yearns for the freedom of nature and a life uncaged. But his caretakers are unfortunately negligent; he's overfed, frightened by a large dog, abused inside an exercise ball, and finally forgotten in the snow. Children looking for a cute story about a misunderstood hamster will find this title bittersweet, in the vein of The Velveteen Rabbit. The story might serve as a cautionary tale for children who need lessons about how to treat their pets, but the more dismal scenes make it less than ideal for storytime. Van Allsburg's backgrounds and designs feel much more simplistic than previous works, and his normal sepia color scheme has been traded in for bright colors and limited shadow, keeping the book's tone as lighthearted as possible given its serious nature. Although a departure from his other masterpieces like Jumanji (1991) and Polar Express (1985, both Houghton Harcourt), Misadventures of Sweetie Pie is an additional purchase for most collections.—Peter Blenski, Greenfield Public Library, WI
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780547315829
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 11/4/2014
  • Pages: 32
  • Sales rank: 66,151
  • Age range: 4 - 8 Years
  • Product dimensions: 9.80 (w) x 11.20 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Chris Van Allsburg is the winner of two Caldecott Medals, for Jumanji and The Polar Express, as well as the recipient of a Caldecott Honor Book for The Garden of Abdul Gasazi. The author and illustrator of numerous picture books for children, he has also been awarded the Regina Medal for lifetime achievement in children’s literature. In 1982, Jumanji was nominated for a National Book Award and in 1996, it was made into a popular feature film. Chris Van Allsburg was formerly an instructor at the Rhode Island School of Design. He lives in Rhode Island with his wife and two children.


Multiple Caldecott Medal winner Chris Van Allsburg grew up in the 1950s in and around Grand Rapids, Michigan. He majored in sculpture at the University of Michigan's College of Architecture & Design and graduated in 1972. He received his M.F.A. in 1975 from Rhode Island School of Design.

After graduate school, Van Allsburgh set up a sculpture studio in Providence, married and settled in the area, and began exhibiting his work in New York City and throughout New England. Around the same time, he became interested in drawing. His wife, Lisa, encouraged him to pursue children's book illustration, putting him in contact with her friend David Macauley, a successful artist and author. Macauley's editor at Houghton Mifflin was impressed by Van Allsburgh's work and advised him to try his hand at illustrating a story of his own. His maiden effort, The Garden of Abdul Gasazi, was published in 1979 and received a Caldecott Honor Medal.

Since that auspicious beginning, Van Allsburgh has gone on to produce a string of wonderfully inventive, critically acclaimed, and award-winning books. He gathers inspiration from unlikely quarters -- the progress of ants across a kitchen counter, crayon streaks in a child's coloring book, a children's board game come to life -- and executes his ideas on a provocative but surefire "What if..." principle.

Among his many awards are two Caldecott Medals -- one for Jumanji, written in 1982 and the other for 1985's The Polar Express; a National Book Award (also for Jumanji); and the Regina Medal for lifetime achievement in children's literature.

Good To Know

Van Allsburg's grandfather owned and operated the East End Creamery and delivered milk and milk products to homes around the Grand Rapids area in yellow and blue trucks.

One of Van Allsburg's childhood homes was a big, Tudor-styled house on a wide, tree-lined street. He used the street as a model for the cover art of what is arguably his most famous book, The Polar Express.

Because so many students at Van Allsburg's high school excelled academically, representatives from the University of Michigan would visit each year to interview interested seniors and admit them on the spot if they met qualifications. During his senior year, Van Allsburg was told about the art program affiliated with the University's College of Architecture & Design and thought it sounded like fun. Although he had never had any formal art classes, he fibbed to the admissions officer, saying he had taken private lessons outside of school.

Two of Van Allsburg's bestselling books, Jumanji and The Polar Express, were subsequently turned into blockbuster movies.

Van Allsburg is not your typical "feel good" children's author. He has been known to handle darker themes, and his stories often involve bizarre worlds and dreamscapes.

In all his stories, Van Allsburg inserts a little white bull terrier modeled after a real-life dog owned by his brother-in-law. (Another popular children's author, David Shannon, does the same thing, but Shannon's pup is a Westie!)

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    1. Hometown:
      Providence, Rhode Island
    1. Date of Birth:
      June 18, 1949
    2. Place of Birth:
      Grand Rapids, Michigan
    1. Education:
      University of Michigan College of Architecture & Design, 1972; Rhode Island School of Design, MFA, 1975
    2. Website:

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