I’m trying to decide whether I should be worried about Elma’s choice of favourite bedtime books. Not only does she have a new favourite (possibly because no one’s quite sure where she’s hidden her previous favourite), but I’m beginning to see a bit of a theme. Yes, move over “Slinky-linky”, mischievous nocturnal filcher of slippers and sausages, there’s a new kid in town. He’s a baddie and a beast and his name, at least according to Elma, is “iway rad”.
He takes what he wants and eats what he takes, until his poor fellow travellers along the highway grow rather thin being constantly held up by the Highway Rat and forced to hand over their supper, even while the rat sneers at their meagre rations.
I’m beginning to think that there might be something a bit more than meets the eye to this carefully themed study. Should we be worried that she’s masterminding a little nocturnal mischief? Although perhaps given that the redeeming feature of both stories is that our eponymous anti-heroes are both rather inept theives; Slinky Malinki meets his comeuppance at the hands of a bottle of glue, a half knitted jersey and an alarm clock, and all it takes to rid the highway of its rat is the cunning of a friendly duck and the Rat’s own greed, maybe Elma’s preparing for a lifetime of law enforcement?
Or of course it could just be that The Highway Rat, like Slinky Malinki before it, is a really good read.
There are more than a few Julia Donaldson stories that you feel have taken their inspiration from fairy tales, fables or a little classic poetry and this is one of the more obvious examples, with a patter and form heavily based on Alfred Noyes’ The Highwayman. It’s that rhythm that makes it such a pleasure to read, it carries you along with the repetition of “riding…riding..riding…riding along the highway”, though happily the story itself is a lot cheerier than Noyes’ original self-sacrificing Landlord’s daughter Bess and her grief-stricken highwayman; even the horrid Rat gets a happyish sort of ending, landing a job in a cake shop, sweeping the crumbs and snacking on the leftover cake.
I think Elma loves it for the repetition throughout the poem; she’ll snuggle in happily to Mummy or Daddy or Grandpa or whoever she can persuade to read it, and listen contentedly, one thumb tucked into her cheek. But reading it with Kitty on the other hand is much more interactive, and can be so funny; whenever we get to the bit where the Highway Rat tells the other animals that their leaves or nuts are his she’ll frown straight back at us, “no it’s not, it belongs to the squirrel! That’s not very nice!”. I’m not sure whether she expects a different result from a different reading or a different reader, but I love that she wants everyone to play fair.
She loves Axel Scheffler’s illustrations too; spotting the owl from the Gruffalo and familiar supporting characters from Julia Donaldson’s other stories in the pictures, especially when the animals share out all the food which the Highway Rat had taken off them, celebrating with feasting and dancing all night long.
As with anyone who is quite as prolific as Julia Donaldson there are always going to be stories that don’t engage as much as there are some that become firm favourites, and I think I can safely say that The Highway Rat is on the favourites list. I’m also rather looking forward to the day when one of my children gets assigned The Highwayman as English homework, and starts to wonder why it all sounds a little bit familiar!
Last week Vickie’s family acquired a brand new Oliver Jeffers story; they’ve had it a day and already love it, which is a recommendation if ever I heard one! And if you have a favourite, or just something fun your little ones have enjoyed reading lately please do join us. The linky is always open for the whole week so there’s plenty of time. And so, without further ado, it’s over to you to tell me what we should be reading!