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Sunday, October 2, 2016

Rita's Rhino, written and illustrated by Tony Ross. Andersen Press USA., Thomas Allen & Son. 2014. $21.99 ages 4 and up

"When they reached the block where Rita lived, it was a bit of a squeeze, getting her new pet into the elevator. It is not easy hiding a rhinoceros in a small bedroom in a small apartment. Mom brought Rita toast covered with marmalade. As soon as she left, Rita gave it to her pet. "I don't like toast," said the rhinoceros. "I only eat grass from Africa."

This is classic Tony Ross storytelling - it's filled with engaging images of a small girl and a quest for a new pet. Her parents are reticent, finding pets to be stinky and greedy, and in need of time-consuming care. Rita does not want to take no for an answer. Her mother finally agrees to a 'very little pet'. What about a flea? Or a frog? How uninspiring!

Rita takes matters into her own hands. Off she goes to the zoo where she finds an amenable rhinoceros. The images that show just how difficult it is for an urban girl to hide her new pet are perfect. Rita's coat and hat certainly do little to hide much; it does provide a giggle to see that this is her solution to keeping the zookeeper at bay. More problems arise with space in her apartment, food for her new pet,  and how to get rid of the waste created by such an enormous animal.

All is not perfect for the rhino either. Making him 'stay' outside while she attends school will have everyone hooting. Her explanation for the teacher even more so. It's enough to make a rhino long for his cage at the zoo. The story ends with a gentleness that speaks to the love the two have for each other, even though they couldn't make such pet ownership work.

The watercolor and ink illustrations are classic Tony Ross. He fills the pages with joy and detail, certain to entertain and have kids wanting to hear the story one more time.


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