Monday, September 17, 2012

Review for Malcolm at Midnight

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.