Friday, April 1, 2016

The Great Pet Escape by Victoria Jamieson

The Great Pet Escape by Victoria Jamieson
Rating: 5 stars

Henry Holt & Company

What do you need when one of your children gets the dreaded GI bug while at the beach during Spring Break? You need a laugh, that's what--both you and your child need to find some reason to laugh despite this miserable situation.

That's exactly what happened to my son two weeks ago. After driving for five hours to get to the beach, he got sick. He was so miserable--exhausted yet awake, feeling icky but wanting to snuggle in close with me. He called out, "Mom, will you read to me?" I grabbed a few options from our library bag; he chose The Great Pet Escape, a new graphic novel written and illustrated by the author of Newbery Honor-winning Roller Girl, Victoria Jamieson.

Talk about an escape from your own reality! This book was just what Ben and I needed.

The Great Pet Escape starts with a hamster explaining his situation: he's the second grade class pet at Daisy P. Flugelhorn Elementary School, and he's been stuck in this "prison" for three months, two weeks, and one day. He's got to bust out, find his two friends who are locked up in similar situations, and get the heck out of this school.

George accomplishes his first step--get out of his own cell--by stealing away bits and pieces of classroom items that the kids drop in his cage and inventing a machine that will propel him towards the cage door. The bobby pin he's acquired does the final trick of opening the cage.

When he finds and frees his two friends, the conversations on how school has changed them are surprising and hilarious. Unlike George, they don't hate their new situations. In fact, they kinda like the kids and the books they get to read and the feelings they get to talk about. But they are willing to leave this all behind and escape with their pal George to the outside world.

But when they go to escape, their plans go awry. The fourth grade pet mouse stands in their way, with an army of white mice behind him, and the three pets suddenly find themselves fighting for the kids, protecting them against the head mouse's evil plans to make grosser-than-gross food and serve it up in the cafeteria.

The rest of the book is laugh-out-loud funny while the two groups of class pets duke it out in the student-free halls of school.

I love how Jamieson takes the familiar school setting and the friendly class pets and shakes things up with a wonderful, imaginative adventure. I love how her silly drawings and funny quips made my sick son and his tired mom laugh out loud every few pages. My younger son (nearly 5 years old) heard us laughing and wandered in, so I ended up reading the book a second time to him. He loved it as much as Ben did. Then their big sister Lorelei (nearly 9 years old) wanted a turn with it. What fun that this book got six thumb's up from three kids at three very different points in their reading life.

The size of this book helps with its accessibility, I think. It's a slim graphic novel, so it's perfect to tuck into the car as a surprise book during a long road trip, when kids are tired of being in the car but still need a distraction from the fact that no, we are not there yet. My kids and I had fun conversations about what the animals in our lives do when their humans aren't around, though I'm pretty sure our good dog Lulu is content to sleep, uninterrupted.

Well done, Victoria!

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