This article is from the Summer 2002 AFRMA Rat & Mouse Tales news-magazine.
By Louise Stack
Written by Arlene Erlbach
Photos by Andy King
From the “All About Pets” series
Published by Lerner Publications Company, Minneapolis, MN, https://www.lernerbooks.com/
Copyright 1998, 93 pages
Do you remember the thrill of getting your first pet rat? In My Pet Rat, we follow 12-year-old Rachael as she learns how to be a conscientious rat fancier while preparing to buy her first pet rat. Rachael’s parents are divorced, so she stays at her dad’s apartment on weekends and during school vacations, and with her mom during the week.
For Christmas, Rachael’s dad gives her a 15-gallon aquarium and a gift certificate to buy one rat at the local pet store. He tells her that she can get the rat when she stays with him during Spring Break. The man obviously isn’t an impulse buyer.
Hungry for knowledge, she and her dad commence to read books about rats, so they both will know how to care for her new pet. When spring break arrives, Rachael and her dad go to the pet store and buy an adorable 6-week-old female Beige Hooded rat, which Rachael names “Kirby.”
We observe Rachael and Kirby as they go through their daily routine. First Rachael sets up a stimulating environment for her pet in the aquarium. Then she teaches Kirby tricks, prepares a “rat chow” recipe, constructs a rat racetrack, and even rat proofs a room to keep Kirby safe.
My Pet Rat leads children down the right path to good rodent care, but has a couple of bumps in the road. For instance, in the chapter “Choosing the Right Rat,” we are told that a good place to buy a rat is a pet shop that sells snakes and rats as snake food. You’d be saving a rat that would otherwise end up as a snake’s lunch! I wasn’t sure if that was the 12-year-old’s opinion, or the author’s opinion? I’ve spoken to quite a few first-time rat owners who have come home with a “feeder rat” that had a skittish temperament or was already pregnant because the rat came from a commercial breeder.
Then on the page titled “Rat Facts,” we read a female rat can start having babies at about 3 months of age. This statement could be misleading to a novice rat owner as 3 months is the recommended age to breed a female rat for the first time; however, a female rat can get pregnant at 5 weeks of age.
Elementary and junior high school teachers with classroom rats will want to have this book sitting right next to the rat’s cage, as a teaching aid. It’s easy reading and has many color photos, which show how much fun caring for a pet rat can be. There are also instructions for a project called “How to Make a Rat Racetrack,” which will have kids running for the scissors, masking tape, and cardboard boxes.
While reading the book I kept thinking, “Gee, won’t Kirby be lonely when Rachael goes back to her mother’s house during the week, and Rachael’s father is away at work?” I thought it odd that Rachael’s dad only let her get one rat after reading books which advise fanciers to have at least two rats, since they’re social animals. Rachael rationalizes the situation saying, “Rats enjoy the company of other rats, but they seem happy with just humans to play with.”
But then a light went on in my head for I realized that the author must have a sequel book in the making, perhaps called, A New Friend For Kirby.