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Middle Grade Monday – Ratscalibur by Josh Lieb

middlegrademondayAs I began this novel by the author of I am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil, and I want to be Your Class President, I worried that this was going to be a cheesy, MG version of The Sword in the Stone. As is obvious from the title, this story borrows from the story of Arthur and Excalibur, but then throws in a heavy dose of Lord of the Rings, liberally salted with Norse mythology – specifically that related to the ‘beserkers.’ But it then, thankfully, goes in its own direction. Telling the story of Joey, a boy recently moved to the city from a small town in the summer before seventh grade, Ratscalibur opens on Joey and his mother unpacking and trying to adjust to their move. The only person they know in the city is Joey’s Uncle Patrick, but the move is a new opportunity for Joey’s Mom, who is trying to provide the best she can for Joey.

Joey’s Uncle Patrick brings him a pet rat as a gift – which turns out to be not a pet store rat (as he claims) but one he found on the street. And, unbeknownst to Uncle Patrick, it is the great ragician Gondorf. In his (almost) last act before he dies, Gondorf turns Joey into a rat and sends him on a quest to deliver a message to the rat king, Uther. Oh, wait, yes, I said “ragician.” You see, rats do ragic. Squirrels do squagic. And mankind? We do magic. But ours is a wild, untamed magic, primarily fueled by sadness.

ratscaliburSo, Joey finds himself in the realm of the rat king, Uther, delivering the message of Gondorf’s death. While there, he happens to unwittingly pull the great Ratscalibur from its seemingly forever trapped position in a stale biscuit, and becomes the hope of the kingdom. Together with the cat-riding knight Sir Parsifur, a female body guard guinea pig named Bruthilda, and Princess Yislene, heir to the kingdom and the only remaining ragician, Joey sets of on a quest to seek the help of the great squagician, Squirrelin, before the rat kingdom falls to the evil Salaman. And this is where the story gets interesting.
This is a wonderful story of bravery and betrayal, honor, love, and hope in the face of insurmountable odds. The weaving throughout of various mythologies, rather than being the basis for the story’s existence, becomes a background element that draws everything together and adds a bit of humor and fun. Young readers who don’t know these mythologies will not be confused, but rather introduced to them in an engaging way that will continue to amuse them if they remember the story as they get older and read The Sword in the Stone, or the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

I highly recommend this as a purchase for collections serving upper elementary populations.

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