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Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Misadventures of Sweetie Pie, by Chris Van Allsburg. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Thomas Allen & Son. 2014. $21.99 ages 5 and up

"She grabbed Sweetie Pie and yanked his bony paws though the sleeves of a pink dress. "Aren't you pretty?" Sue asked, then dropped him into the dollhouse. He spun like a top, making a terrible mess. "That's not polite," she said, and tossed him back into the cage."

I wonder how any small animal really feels when it is leaves the comfort of a familiar setting to live with a new owner? In Chris Van Allsburg's latest picture book about such a hamster, we learn that thing are not always as good as they might seem.

Sweetie Pie has lost each of a dozen former friends to new homes. He himself has avoided such a fate by being belligerent and unwilling to play nice. Loneliness has finally caused him to change his ways. The next person interested in taking him home finds him reasonable and willing to discover the world beyond the pet shop window. There is excitement in the air.

Little does Sweetie Pie know he is leaving one cage to be trapped in another. Although his new owner often takes him out to cuddle, he is not particularly thrilled with it. Soon, she is concerned with other electronic pursuits. She feeds and waters him, but they spend little time together. Life becomes very routine and Sweetie Pie fills the alone time with consuming every bit of food that comes his way. Having become disinterested, his owner sells him to a friend.

Life goes from bad to worse! Constant confrontations between the resident dog and the interloper results in Sweetie Pie going to live with Sue. This results in a new and terrifying adventure in a plastic ball that moves much too quickly; soon, the hamster is lost and alone. A new owner, a new home and another misunderstanding. Oh boy, some life!!

Will Sweetie Pie ever find his place in the world?

I have missed Chris Van Allsburg's work. I think the last book I read was Queen of the Falls in 2011 (HMH Books for Young Readers). I have always been a big fan of his precise, detailed work and his ironic stories. In this, he does not disappoint. The softly colored illustrations are done in watercolor, pen and ink, and colored pencil. They almost give a false sense of the book being a gentle story about a pet. Sweetie Pie's pain at being caged, mistreated and finally lost is evident in his ever-changing expressions. Mr. Van Allsburg is a master at perspective and he clearly shows his readers the plight of a tiny creature whose life is not what we might think it should be ... until it is!

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