This article is from the Winter 2001 AFRMA Rat & Mouse Tales news-magazine.
By Louise Stack
Written by Judy Cox
Illustrated by Cynthia Fisher
Published by Holiday House, NY
Copyright 1998, 93 pages
Written by elementary school teacher/writer Judy Cox, Third Grade Pet is an entertaining and useful book for any teacher planning on getting a rat for a classroom pet. Teachers will find this book useful for its advice on rodent care and helpful in exploring misconceptions children might have about rats. Students will chuckle at the many humorous escapades throughout the book.
The book’s main character, third-grader Rosemary Robinson, is surprised to learn that her class will be getting a rat. Rosemary is no rat fan; in fact, she says rats are her worst nightmare.
When the class goes on a field trip to a pet store to do research on what kind of animal would make the best pet for their classroom, they come to the conclusion that a rat would be perfect. A rat and all the accessories it needs fits right within their fifty-dollar budget.
Introducing “Cheese,” the new classroom rat to the students, Rosemary’s teacher tells the children, “It will be fun having a rat as our class pet. Caring for him will teach you kids some responsibility and compassion.”
After observing that Cheese was not “dirty, mean, or flea bitten,” Rosemary grows extremely fond of him. She then becomes obsessed with making sure that another student, who is supposed to take him home for the weekend, will not abuse the rat. Rosemary’s good intentions backfire when she secretly takes Cheese home to keep him safe, but instead ends up endangering him.
She eventually realizes that taking Cheese back to school would be the best thing to do. The class pet finally ends up back in his cage safe and sound, after surviving his wild weekend with Rosemary.
The last chapter of the book, “Rosemary’s Rat Care Tips,” gives advice on how to keep a pet rat healthy and happy. Students will be eager to read all of Rosemary’s tips so they can become conscientious rat keepers. Most of Rosemary’s advice is helpful; however, a few of her tips could use some fine-tuning.
Under “Where To Get a Pet Rat,” we’re told to buy one from a pet store, as it will be disease free. Yes, pet store rats will not be carrying bubonic plague, but unfortunately, some pet stores do sell rats that are sick. Teachers and kids should learn how to tell if a rat is healthy. It’s always wise to check for signs of ill health, such as eye or nose discharge, sneezing, wheezing, thin condition, or listlessness.
“What to Put in Your Rat’s Cage,” explains that cedar shavings are harmful to rats, but recommends using fir and pine shavings. Pine is also toxic to rodents and should not be used. Aspen shavings, paper pellets, wood pulp bedding (Care FRESH™), or even rabbit pellets are preferable choices.
In “How to Clean Your Rat’s Cage,” we’re instructed to clean the cage weekly by emptying it out and then putting in fresh bedding. It should also mention that the cage and accessories need to be washed with detergent and water, and then disinfected with bleach and water.
Rosemary’s sense of humor is at work in “Where to Keep a Rat,” when she advises us to, “Keep the pet rat in an aquarium. A dry one of course!” She’s right on the mark when she states, “Glass aquariums are safe and easy to clean.”
She goes on to enlighten us with tips on providing a healthy diet in “What to Feed Your Rat.” Small-animal kibble is said to be the main staple of a rat’s diet, supplemented with fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. If by “small-animal kibble” Rosemary means rat lab blocks, then the advice is excellent. Rat lab blocks specially made for rats are a complete diet. However, nuts and seeds should be avoided because of the high fat content.
Rosemary’s last tip, “How to Hold Your Rat,” ends with the message, “Treat your rat with kindness and respect, and it will be a friendly loving pet,” thus sending us on the road to a positive experience with a wonderful little animal.