Runnin' Wild: The Misadventures of Sweetie Pie by Chris Van Allsburg
HE'S SOOO CUTE!" SQUEALED THE PIGTAILED GIRL. THE HAMSTER HAD HEARD THESE WORDS BEFORE. HE'D ONCE SHARED HIS HOME WITH A DOZEN FRIENDS.
HE'D BEEN LEFT BEHIND BECAUSE WHENEVER A CHILD HAD PICKED HIM UP, HE'D SQUIRMED AND SCRATCHED.
TODAY HE DID NOT PUT UP A FIGHT. WHEREVER HIS FRIENDS HAD GONE, HE WANTED TO GO THERE, TOO.
But it's out of the frying pan and into the fire for this hamster. The ride home on the back of her bike, in the sun and breeze, is the best part. The girl names him Sweetie Pie and squeezes him too tight, but he cooperates. At least he's out of the cage.
But then Pigtails is distracted by her new laptop, and Sweetie Pie is resigned to overeating to pass the time. Suddenly he finds himself the subject of a sales pitch to a strange boy.
"KIND OF BIG, ISN'T HE?" HE GRUMBLES.
Again, the best part is the ride home, out where he can see the sky and sniff the outdoors. Unluckily, the boy already has a pet, a dog appropriately named Buster who knocks over his cage and slavers at the bars daily. Too anxious to eat, Sweetie Pie becomes skinny and mopey and soon finds himself gifted to a not-so sweet Cousin Sue, who confines him in her dollhouse, stuffed into a frilly pink dress. But Cousin Sue is not through with her ideas of hamster fun. She stuffs him inside a clear plastic exercise ball and rolls him down her sidewalk. Out of control, Sweetie Pie careens downhill, across a busy street, and finally rolls into a park, where he remains until some kids notice him the next day.
Fortune smiles and Sweetie Pie becomes a classroom pet. At least he's not lonely, and the job has one perk: his cage sits by the window where he can at least see the sky and trees. Sometimes a curious squirrel comes to sit on the outside sill and seems friendly. When the holidays come, a boy volunteers to keep him over the break, but when he stops off to toss a football with friends, he forgets Sweetie Pie and leaves him in his cage as the snow begins to fall.
After vacation, the boy sadly confesses to the class. The teacher tries to put a positive spin on the story.
"I'M SURE," SHE SAID, "A NICE BOY OR GIRL IS TAKING CARE OF HIM."
THE CHILDREN KNEW BETTER.
Does Sweetie Pie wind up as a frozen hamster popsicle? Or does he find a familiar rodent friend to ride to his rescue? In his forthcoming The Misadventures of Sweetie Pie (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014), two-time Caldecott medalist (for Jumanji and the classic The Polar Express) Chris Van Allsburg tells it like it is for cage pets. Sweetie Pie may fare better than the kids predict, and sharp readers may foresee Van Allsburg's nicely foreshadowed ending, a bitter-sweet conclusion that involves a steady diet of acorns, but readers will come away perhaps thinking twice about what it means to own and care for a small pet.
The Misadventures of Sweetie Pie is a switch from Van Allburg's familiar surreal style. Here his deceptively pleasant ink and pastel watercolor illustrations contrast pointedly with the indignities suffered by his little protagonist. Sweetie Pie's expressions tell all as the artist uses perspective shifts to portray the story from the point of view inside that cage as well as outside. This one is not your average cheery little lost-pet story, but like all of Van Allsburg's work, it is one that kids will likely remember well long after.
As Publishers Weekly wryly observes, "Thinking of getting a hamster? Read this first."