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Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The Infamous Ratsos Are Not Afraid, by Kara LaReau with illustrations by Matt Myers. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2017. $19.99 ages 7 and up

"Ralphie isn't thinking about telling anyone. He's remembering who started the rumor about Stinky. It was him, back when he and Louie were trying to act tough all the time. He was joking around with the nickname "Stinky Stanko." At the time, it just sounded really funny. But it doesn't seem funny at all now. "I think I'm the one who's sorry," Ralphie says."

What a great series this is! We met Louie and Ralphie last year. This time, the two face their fears as they work to establish an neighborhood arcade. Their love of all things carnival is just the push they need to consider a vacant lot next to The Haunted House as the site for Louie's idea.

The lot is full of junk. The Ratsos LOVE junk. They love rummaging through it and finding treasure no one knows is there. It is going to take a lot of help to get the lot cleaned up and ready for a clubhouse. Then the plan is to create the Big City FunTime Arcade. It will all be worth it! No more video games. Everyone can come to their carnival.

If they are going to work in the lot next door, Louie will have to conquer his fears concerning The Haunted House. No one knows he is scared. He always does whatever he can to avoid it. Ralphie is dealing with his own fear - of being teased concerning Stinky Stanko, her fallen pen and the rumor that he likes her because he picked it up for her. Luckily, they have an understanding and trustworthy father who listens to those fears. He reassures them with the revelation that he also is afraid at times. He encourages them to put on a brave face and do what they can to face them down.

"I just tell myself it's OK to be afraid,"
says Big Lou. "And I try to be brave."
"How?" asks Louie.
"By reminding myself that I'm the
boss of me, not my fears," Big Lou

Ralphie, in trying to discover who started the rumor, finds out that Stinky is not stinky at all and is hurt by the nickname he gave her. Louie takes his father's advice and meets up with the man who lives in the haunted house. It's a game changer for both boys. Big Lou is a great dad, doing his best to raise his boys alone following his wife's death. He's good at guiding while also serving up his signature spaghetti and meatballs, and his advice is totally appropriate for his two sons.

This is perfect fare for those readers wanting to move to accessible longer reads. The chapters are short, the pages have plenty of dialogue, helpful illustrations and carefully spaced text. Those illustrations show an urban landscape, a working class neighborhood, and a typical school setting. Kids will recognize themselves in some of the images, and will also hopefully have some of the freedom the Ratso brothers and their friends have for exploration and activity.

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