Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge, 2015

Who loves rats? Almost nobody! Lunde’s Dirty Rats? might help all of us rat skeptics appreciate the variety of rats in the world and what they do for us. It turns out that rats have gotten a bad rap. Despite their repuation, there are lots of different species of rats all over the world that have nothing to do with garbage or sewers. They are useful, valuable, and some are downright adorable.

Dirty Rats! starts by describing the unsavory creatures that most of us think of as disease-carrying vermine. Soon, though, it moves on to rats that live in tropical rain forests and look more like mice; insect-eating rats in Ecuador that look like otters; and bushy-tailed rats with cool mohawks that live in the Philippines. At last we circle back to the familiar (and somewhat controversial) lab rats. With facts about how rats help the environment, play an important part in the food chain, and help humans, they don’t seem all bad.

Darrin Lunde is uniquely qualified to write about rats, and any other mammal, since he manages the mammal collection at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. The illustrations by Adam Gustavson are beautifully realistic oils that help us understand each rat’s habitat.  The end papers include a comical line up of additional species of rats, including a giant, extinct variety from three million years ago.  It was the size of a rhinosaurus and only it’s haunches fit on the page! There are also suggestions for additional online reading.

The text on some double page spreads is different sizes to distinguish between easier and more complex reading, making the book more versatile for more age groups and for read alouds. It would have been helpful to include a pronunciation guide to assist with the Latin names of the species, but the diligent reader can figure it out.

Dirty Rats? is a suitable addition to a K-3 collection on mammal collection and makes a good introduction to the much maligned rat.

Dewey: 599.35 Interest Level: K-3

Awards and Reviews: Booklist; Library Media Collection; Science Books and Film, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly.

Middle grade readers might like: Oh Rats!: The Story of Rats and People by Albert Marrin.

Fiction Pairing: Bad Rats by Eric Drachman

On the Web: 

Learn about the Year of the Rat on the Chinese Zodiac.

Audio: Ben by Michael Jackson (written by Don Black and Walter Scharf) on YouTube from the move Ben (Bing Crosby Productions, 1972).