|Image from OpenLibrary.org|
One day a boy walks by a pet store and notices a sign on the window, “EVERYTHING MUST GO!” Also in the window is a small rat who shouts to the boy, “I’m a bargain! I’m only 1 cent! Choose me!” Naturally, the boy goes into the shop to see what other pets are selling cheap. There’s a turtle for 3 cents and a tortoise for 4 cents, but the rat assures the boy that rats are better. Things beginning with P are 5 cents each – penguin, puffin, platypus – but the rat tells the boy that R is much better than P, “R for Ratty!” There’s even a Komodo dragon for just 25 cents! The rat is despondent. There’s no way the boy would pick him over all the other fabulous pets. But the boy just smiles and counts up his money. He has exactly $1, “just enough to buy the rat…and everything else in the shop!”
Inkpen’s soft watercolor illustrations are set off against a plain white background. If your child is a fan of Kipper the dog, you will probably recognize his style. The animals are cartoonish with small dot eyes and rounded bodies and faces, especially the outspoken little rat. Flaps are incorporated into the illustrations as well. They are often used to reveal the persistent rat or other humorous visual elements. The text, written in past tense, is a combination of narrative and the rat’s dialogue with the boy. The clever use of counting currency throughout the story provides a strong through line and the numbers, printed in large, bold print, pop out on the page. I believe this book was originally published in the UK and in that edition the boy bought the pets with pounds and pence. The US version uses dollars and pennies instead.
Use this as a mini-math lesson about dollars and cents. Read the story so that everyone can cheer for the little rat. Then ask kids how many pennies are in a dollar. Read the story and keep track of how much each item would cost on a large piece of paper or a whiteboard. Print off a sheet that has the names and pictures of each animal that kids can fill in with the price as you read the story. You can also give each child 100 real or pretend pennies so they can count the money as the story progresses.
You can talk about even and odd numbers and have kids separate the animals in the store into even and odd columns. Multiplication and division can easily be worked in as well. Ask kids to pick their favorite animal in the story. How many puffins would they be able to buy with a dollar? You can also use the printable coloring sheets from Sparkle Box for some of these activities.
Several pets in the story may be unfamiliar to young readers, such as terrapins, platypuses, and Komodo dragons. Have photographs and non-fiction books about the animals in the book for kids to browse and check out. The boy also asks about the difference between salamanders, skinks, and geckos, so you’ll probably want to have some basic information to share.