The Highway Rat by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler
The creators of The Gruffalo return for an uproarious version of a beloved poem. Beware, for the Highway Rat is coming and he’s out to steal everyone’s snacks. He rides along with food dropping out of his saddlebags, accosting poor travelers at sword point, demanding their goodies. He steals clover from a rabbit who has nothing else, a leaf from some ants, even hay from his own horse. Eventually though, the Highway Rat meets his match in a juicy-looking duck who directs him into a cave where the echo seems to promise food. Then the Highway Rat rides no more.
I love a good riff on a traditional poem, and this one is very clever. Those familiar with The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes will particularly enjoy the play Donaldson makes with its form. She incorporates familiar phrasing like “And the Highway Rat went riding – riding –riding – riding along the highway.” Somehow her other words which are quite different from the poem have a similar rhythm and evoke the poem effortlessly.
Scheffler’s illustrations have a wonderful bold quality to them. The Highway Rat is truly a bad guy and his naughtiness is clearly shown in his actions and his aspect. His googly-eyed horse is a pleasure, almost always making eye-contact with the reader and sharing the joke of this evil rat riding on his back. The rich colors of the landscape add a depth to the illustrations that is very welcome.
The tale of an evil highwayman (or rat) makes for a great read. Add in strong illustrations and the play on a well-known poem, and you have picture book magic. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Arthur A. Levine Books.