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The Great Hamster Massacre

Posted on Mar 23, 2011

Katie Davies
with illustrations by Hannah Shaw
(Simon & Schuster Children’s Books)

It is a new school year and Anna has been asked to write a report on her summer holidays. Her mum wants her to “embellish” the truth but no, Anna wants to write about what really happened, and that, is the bloody massacre of her hamsters. But in order to tell this story, Anna must first recall her relentless efforts to get a hamster, including all sorts of pet-related stories from Old Cat to New Cat, from Joe’s Old Rabbit to His New Rabbit. A few family arguments and some rather worrying  family secret revelations later, Anna finally gets a couple of hamsters. And that is when things start to go downhill.

This has got to be one of funniest stories I’ve read in a long time! I am still laughing at the bald husband joke! My son read it to me first, and I was in absolute stitches. Then I read it myself, and I was nearly crying, and finally I read it to my husband, and again I was laughing away. I don’t know why, that joke, just does not get old to me!
What I loved about this book is that Katie Davies manages to capture the essence of how children’s speak perfectly. It’s like watching Outnumbered; I guess this is what makes it particularly funny for adult readers, especially those who have little people just like that at home.
It is quirky, with all sorts of wacky characters and rather unusual situations (Anna being stuck in the cupboard in the vicarage being a prime example!), and it is also a great first introduction to the detective story genre, because after all this is a murder mystery story!
While the dead pet issue remains really funny (it shouldn’t be, but it is!), there are some very serious issues dealt with in this book: bereavement, grief, step-parents, difficulties in friendship and falling out; mixed with the humorous tone, these issues seem to “flow” more, without ever falling into preaching or moralising,  but they are there nonetheless and readers will be attuned to them. This is what I think sets this series apart from many similar offerings; it illustrates how good and clever a writer Katie Davies is.

Hannah Shaw’s illustrations and the overall design and layout of the book are in sync with the tone of the book. It really is a successful partnership, and that hamster’s face on the cover definitely sets the tone of the book. I love the way the definitions from the dictionary are included on the page – so many children do not use dictionaries these days, it might actually be rather enlightening for them!

This was a great discovery for me, I am not into funny books particularly but both my son and I were won over by this great story. The Great Hamster Massacre is first in a series featuring the same group of characters and focusing on detective work surrounding their pets. You get a little inkling in The Great Hamster Massacre as to what might happen in the second tome, The Great Rabbit Rescue, and my son couldn’t wait to read it.

Highly recommended, for young and not-so-young readers!

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