That Pesky Rat by Lauren Child

Woman face to face with rat
Rachele Totaro

I saw the most beautiful photographs of rats that had been saved from laboratories on Bored Panda.

Rat asleep and curled up in hand

Taken by photographer by Rachel Totaro, she explains:

Every year in Italy, hundreds of thousands of animals die in laboratories. Some are used for lethal tests, but most could be saved: many are used for experiments from which they could easily recover and restart normal life, others are not actually used in tests, but are kept in laboratories as a surplus of safety or control, and once the experiment has ended they become “a useless expense” for labs.

Italian law allows experimental laboratories not to kill healthy and ‘salvable’ animals, but to release them to individuals or charity, like La Collina dei Conigli.

Rachele works for the charity as a volunteer photographer, and as you can see her photographs are amazing.

White lab rat smelling the fresh air.

Last summer I photographed mice and rats. Well, nothing special, are you thinking? Let me add a detail which made this session unique: for them, it was the first time ever outside a cage, open air.

Rachele totaro
Woman's hand holding rat

I am in the process of putting together a list of children’s books that are about, or feature, experiments on animals. It is longer than I thought.

Book Cover Lauren Child

In the meantime, I thought That Pesky Rat by Lauren Child, would be a good choice to support the work of Rachel Totaro and La Collina dei Conigli.

Winner of the now defunct Nestlé Smarties Book Prize in 2002, it is the story of a rat who would like to find a home and become a pet.

He knows that he is a viewed as a ‘pesky rat’ and is seen by all as a brown, smelly, street rat so it is not going to be easy.

Pesky Rat has friends who are pets: Pierre the Chinchilla who ‘lives in the lap of luxury’; the bored Siamese cat Oscar who has to get his own supper as his owner is out at work all day; and Nibbles, the circus rabbit, who hops through hoops in a tutu and wishes for time off to so he can put his feet up. I obviously like Andrew, the Scottie dog best, who admits to being well looked after but feels embarrassed in the hat and coat Miss StClair makes him wear (my adorable Scottie dog will not move an inch if I dare put a coat on him, even when it is pouring with rain).

Illustrated scottie dog wearing tarten coat

Anyway, Rat imagines what it would be like to live in each of these homes and decides that he would do ‘anything to be somebody’s pet’ so he goes to ask Mrs Trill, the pet shop owner, if there is anyone who might want him. A little bit of persuasive writing ensues…

Grade 2 persuasive writing

So Pesky Rat writes an advert:

That Pesky Cat!

The advert works! Old Mr Fortesque reads the notice and says he will be take him home. He has “been looking for a brown cat as nice as this one for ages.”

Mrs Trill and Pesky Rat do not correct him and despite the misunderstanding, Pesky Rat happily settles into his new home even though his new name is Tiddles and he is a very pretty kittycat indeed!

This is a great book to have in the classroom.

Discuss:

Traits and stereotypes.
For example, why do we think some animals are cute and cuddly whilst others dirty and smelly? Is it true rats smell?

Homes.
What is a home? What makes us feel ‘at home’?

Pets.
Why do we have pets? What do pets need to be happy and healthy?

Activities:

Act out the scene between Mrs Trill and Pesky Rat.  Explore how Pesky Rat can convince Mrs Trill he would make a good pet.

Write an advert for a pet in need of a home. Make sure to include a list of everything the pet needs to keep him healthy and happy. Be as specific as possible e.g. exactly how many walks a day and for how long.

Practice:

Handwriting and drawing so we always communicate effectively and avoid misunderstandings!

In my edition, published in 2018 by Orchard Books, Lauren describes her experience with homelessness. She spent a lot of time staying on friends sofas and longing for a place of her own. 10% of the sales price goes to St Mungo’s Broadway, a charity providing a bed, education, training and job opportunities to help people recover from homelessness.

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