restricted access A Place to Call Home (review)
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Reviewed by
Deacon, Alexis. A Place to Call Home; illus. by Viviane Schwarz. Candlewick, 2011. 36p. ISBN 978-0-7636-5360-6 $16.99 R* Gr. 2-4.

Somewhere, in a junkyard far away, a litter of what appears to be feral hamsters outgrow their cozy den in an abandoned couch and make a foray into the dangerous world. They arm themselves with their own portable holes in the form of various items such as gloves, boots, and teacups, which they promptly fit over their heads, thus rendering themselves blind; they then cross the open sea (a puddle), climb a mountain (a desk) and cross a desert (a sandy patch), and teeter at the very edge of the world (the top of a clothes washer). When a "beast" (the junkyard dog) absconds with one of them, the rest spring into action to save their brother. This happily weird hamster adventure is sort of a cross between Grey's Traction Man Is Here! (BCCB 5/05) and Rathmann's 10 Minutes till Bedtime (BCCB 12/98); kids will giggle at the critters' grandiose misunderstandings of their landscape, and the lively, goofy text, almost all in speech balloons, is both funny ("Oh, no—A DESERT!" "Thank goodness we swallowed so much seawater") and invitingly easy. With the speech balloons and panel sequences, the layout often resembles an oversized graphic novel, but there's still plenty of classic picture-book style in the line-and-watercolor art. The hamsters themselves loopily sport their impromptu dens, all in shades of yellow, making them look like some deranged chorus line of inanimate objects animated and grown legs as they bravely make their way across the yard. The amusing draftsmanship serves to heighten the contrast with the wide world beyond, which appears photographically in the sky above the fence, through gaps when the hamsters reach the boundary, and, finally, in a sweeping landscape when the critters finally make their way out of what they formerly thought had been the entire world. The hapless hamsters will entice pre-readers into following their adventures with or without words, but it's really young readers who will snicker at this story of the brave and clueless making their way into the open air. [End Page 516]