Several years ago readers were introduced to two rats, siblings, Louie and Ralphie Ratso. In the book The Infamous Ratsos (Candlewick Press, August 2, 2016) written by Kara LaReau with illustrations by Matt Myers, the duo try to demonstrate how tough they are but words like nice, thoughtful, generous and helpful follow every dastardly deed they attempt. This combination generates hilarity garnering the title a 2017 Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Book award.
A year later the brothers, their dad, Big Lou, and a cast of friends return in The Infamous Ratsos Are Not Afraid (Candlewick Press, September 12, 2017). An incident at school and a huge neighborhood makeover bring the boys' fears into focus. In this title, Big Lou offers advice which encourages Louie and Ralphie to face what makes them afraid. We come to understand how the boys can learn from their father just as he learns from them. The family dynamics are fabulous. Each of the characters is evolving. We find ourselves becoming more and more attached to them.
The third book in the series The Infamous Ratsos Project Fluffy (Candlewick Press, October 16, 2018) further cements the relationship between readers and Louie and Ralphie Ratso. Popularity plays a role in altering priorities. Being the older brother does not necessarily make you the smarter brother.
ATTENTION, STUDENTS! Principal Otteriguez announces to the lunchroom. "In honor of Poetry Month, Peter Rabbit Elementary will be holding its first annual Poetry Contest!"
Friends of Louie and Ralphie seem to have an opinion on this contest. Chad Badgerton would rather eat, especially chocolate. Fluffy only wants to work on designing, planting and growing fruits and vegetables in her plot at the community garden. Eager Louie and not so eager Ralphie decide to work together. The first prize would give both of them the chance to purchase coveted skateboards.
Immediately after school, plans change. Popular Chuck Wood needs Louie's help. (Louie is known as a great planner.) The first thing Chuck asks is for Louie to work with him privately. It's a secret. Ralphie is not happy about this at all. This is the beginning of Project Fluffy.
Clipboard in hand Louie decides to dedicate all his time to getting Fluffy to notice Chuck. All thoughts of the Poetry Contest are gone, much to Ralphie's disgust. Each Phase of the Project fails miserably supplying one humorous episode after the other. These plans are having the opposite effect.
Finally a disgusted Chuck Wood stalks off leaving Louie friendless for more reasons than one. On an evening before the Poetry Contest winner announcements, a family dinner provides food for thought and Louie's stomach. Real friends . . . and brothers can astonish you.
The constant in the story lines in this series is the high quality of Kara LaReau's writing. In this book ten short, succinct chapters usually revolve around a single incident designated by chapter headings such as SQUEEEEE!, OOPS or LOVE STINKS. An adept blend of narrative and dialogue between the characters invites readers into the story. Not only are we intrigued by the unfolding of the plot but we find ourselves respectfully appreciative of the character development.
The use of language is down-to-earth and appropriate for both the characters and readers. Kara LaReau exhibits a keen knowledge of her audience. Here are two passages.
"Not bad," Chuck says. "But my name is Chuck, not Chucky."
"It's called poetic license," Louie informs him. "Don't worry, Fluffy will love it. Girls love mushy poetry. It's, like, a fact."
"She's better," Chuck says. I can't take much more of this romance stuff."
"Me, neither," Ralphie grumbles.
"You're going to write a poem about Chuck? You can't tell a boy you think he's cool," Chad informs Tiny, as he polishes off his second chocolate pudding. "Not if you're a boy."
"Why not?" asks Tiny.
"I don't know," says Chad. "You just can't."
"I give you my dessert every day because I think you're cool," Tiny informs him.
"You do?" Chad says. He hesitates . . . then pats Tiny on the back. "Actually I think you're pretty cool, too."
"Thanks," says Tiny.
Chad takes another bite of pudding.
"Mmm," says Chad. "Cool, and sweet . . . and chocolatey."
"Why do I think we're not talking about me anymore?" Tiny says.
"I like you a lot, Tiny," says Chad.
"But I love pudding."
From the front of the dust jacket (I'm working with an ARC.) it's clear to see Ralphie is not happy with an oblivious Louie. We're not sure why but we most definitely want to know. We are also curious about the individual talking with Fluffy. Several important scenes take place in the featured park. On the title page a large tree and grasses on the left cross the gutter to frame the text on the right. Beneath the dedications a baseball and a strawberry provide a hint to one of the book's conclusions.
Full page and partial page pictures by Matt Myers rendered with ink and watercolor dye on paper supply extra, many times humorous details, to the story. You need to pause at each illustration to appreciate all the particular elements. Two of the many book titles Fluffy reads are Soil w/o Toil and The Hole-istic Garden. When Matt Myers brings us close to the characters, their fully animated features endear us to them. (I can hardly keep from laughing at Ralphies's oversized eyeglasses.)
Of my many favorite illustrations one is of Fluffy in the cafeteria at lunch. It is a partial page picture. Her rabbit ears are bent on either side of her face. She is earnestly drawing and writing in her notebook about her garden. Books are stacked around her. Her expression reflects her visions and dreams for her garden. She, too, is wearing large eyeglasses.
From beginning to end The Infamous Ratsos Project Fluffy written by Kara LaReau with illustrations by Matt Myers is captivating and uplifting. It's guaranteed this book will be read over and over by readers. (I've read it three times already.) We are entertained. We are educated. This book is a welcome addition to the series. You will want it on your professional and personal book shelves.
To discover more about Kara LaReau and Matt Myers, please visit their respective websites by following the links attached to their names. Both Kara and Matt maintain accounts on Twitter. Kara stops by Watch. Connect. Read., the site of Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries to chat with John Schumacher. She tells us how many more books are left in this series and this is great news! Kara is also interviewed at MG Book Village and Bookology. At the publisher's website you can view an interior illustration, read a sample chapter and download a discussion guide.