Seemingly drawing inspiration from the works of Beatrix Potter, Karen Hunt's The Rumpoles and the Barleys offers many delights...and a timely moral.
The Rumpoles are a family of mice living in a grand mansion. When we meet them, the humans of the house are hosting a party, so Papa Rumpole is busy gathering lots of wonderful food for his family - while carefully treading around Samuel, the human's cat. Mama Rumpole sets a fine table, but we quickly learn that her children, Prunella and Eustace, are spoiled and ill-behaved. Prunella whines about disliking parsnips, while Eustace complains his sister has more stuffing than he. Soon, Papa has enough. "Upstairs to bed at once!" he says.
Being very naughty, the mice-children slide down the drainpipe to escape their room - and land into a rubbish cart. Before they can escape, they are dumped into a garbage heap. Fortunately, another young mouse, Dagwood Barley, spies them and offers to assist. The Barley's live in a modest hole in the ground, and Prunella is so horrified, she has to be pushed inside. But the home itself is cheery and well-maintained, even if the children's clothes are patched and the food is simple. Mama and Papa Barley are kind and promise to help the Rumpoles.
At dinner, Prunella and Eustace begin by grabbing their milk mugs impolitely, but Papa Barley raps on the table until everyone is quiet and ready for a prayer. Beginning their meal in this orderly manner, Prunella and Eustace find the food tastes wonderful - even the vegetables. And it's easy to remember to say "please" and "thank you" when all the other children do it, too. Papa Barley's after-dinner Bible reading ("In everything give thanks") makes Prunella weep. "I'm so dreadfully ashamed of myself," she says. Eustace agrees they've been selfish.
"It's hard to be miserable when you're thankful," says Mama Barley, and so the young mice make a list of all they are thankful for. After a good night's rest, the Barleys drop the Rumpole children off at their mansion. Just as Eustace and Prunella hop in through their bedroom window, their Mama knocks on the door. "Time to get up," she says. "And I do hope you've learned your lesson." Eustace and Prunella agree; they certainly have.
What I Like: Hunt's illustrations are outstanding. They are rich in detail and instantly create an enchanting world where even mice must learn to be thankful for all they have. The moral behind this story is also important, especially for American children who have so much, yet tend to not know how well off they are.
What I Dislike: Eustace and Prunella's ability to be polite at the dinner table seems a bit sudden. What makes them behave? Is it Papa Barley's authoritative look? Embarrassment because they are surrounded by polite children? Or...? I'm not really sure. But this is a fairly minor flaw in an otherwise good book.
Overall Rating: Very good.
Age Appeal: The publisher doesn't specify, but I would say 4 -8.
Publishing Info: Harvest House, 2008; ISBN: 0736921729; hardback, $12.99.
Special Info: You may wish to visit the author and illustrator's website.