July 11, 2011

Safety in numbers

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Seven junkyard hamsters have outgrown their little hole and must face the quest of a lifetime in the adorable new picture book A Place to Call Home. Terrified at being thrust into the world, the hamsters take cover in whatever holes they can find—in a glove, a shoe, a faucet, a teacup and even a paper towel tube. Then, declaring “OFF WE GO!” they blindly begin the search for a new home.

The hapless hamsters cross a sea (a puddle), climb mountains (a desk) and find a hole that won’t stop spinning (an old washing machine). Suddenly, the junkyard dog grabs one of the hamsters and trots away! Summoning all their courage, the crew charges to their brother’s rescue—one grabs a dog ear, one a leg, one a tail and one bellows, “I’VE GOT OUR BROTHER!” Just as they begin to celebrate, they notice a hole in the fence, where the world spreads before them in a full-color photograph of a great valley. “This place looks nice,” the littlest one says, and the safety of tiny holes is no longer so important.

Kids will tumble head-over-heels in love with the hamsters’ commentary, which ranges from scared stiff to fiercely courageous. Desperate cries and cheers for fellow brothers appear in dialogue bubbles, written by Alexis Deacon, whose Beegu and Jitterbug Jam were named New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books of the Year, and hand-lettered by Viviane Schwarz, whose There Are Cats in This Book was short-listed for the Kate Greenaway medal. The comic book-style panels transform the bumbles of roly-poly hamsters into an exciting escapade, and the brave scowls on the faces of the ink-and-watercolor creatures only make them cuter.

Sometimes the world seems impossibly big—especially if you’re only a few inches tall—and sometimes it is full of wonder and possibility. Every child, especially those facing big changes, will want to be part of this charming hamster brotherhood.

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