Is there anything worse for a reader than finishing the last book in a beloved series? We wouldn't mind so much, if only more books for young readers showed the same care and attention to words and pictures that Monika Bang-Campbell and Molly Bang do together in Little Rat.
After all the big sighs, Daughter Number Two still had a few questions about our new favourite furry heroine. So, with a little help, she posed them in an email to the author herself. Here is what we heard back.
Why did Pee Wee chase the cat?
Pee Wee does NOT chase cats, he is scared of cats. All horses are scared of sudden movements they don't understand, because they are "prey" animals - in other words, they don't chase after other animals to eat them but instead are eaten by creatures like wolves and coyotes and jaguars and lions and bears and . . .
So they are scared by things we feel are very safe, like a running little cat or an umbrella suddenly opening up.
Was Pee Wee a real horse?
Pee Wee was indeed a real horse, but he was a brown horse with white socks and a black mane. He was a retired barrel racer, so he was originally very swift, but when I rode him, he was old and slow and fat, but he was also still big. The horse in the book was named Salty, and he looked exactly like that: a big palomino Belgian.
Why are there real photos in the book?
The photos were real pictures of my Dad on his horse (who really was named Starduster) when my Dad was young and rode Starduster in the 4th of July parade in Manchester, New Hampshire. But he didn't have the head of a rat. The other real picture is of me, riding a horse named Happy in a show at the Barnstable County Fair many years ago But I did not have a rat head either.
Will we do another Little Rat book? How does Little Rat Dances Irish sound? Maybe. I don't know. I doubt it will be about Irish dancing, but I never can tell.
Why is Little Rat a rat, and not, say, an armadillo?
I made the books about a little rat because I like rats a lot and had a white rat as a pet when I was little. Her name was Sophie Rat, and she was cuddly and gentle. I've never had a personal relationship with an armadillo.
Maybe one of the reasons the series works so well is that it taps into some very real experiences in the childhood of its very real author. This makes the words authentic, and the scary, discouraging and frustrating parts of learning something new ring true. The bumps and the bruises, and the ups and downs are all there, but so is the heart, soul and happiness that comes from doing something difficult, whether its riding, making music, setting sail or even... learning to read.