“'There's cold chicken inside it,' replied the Rat briefly; 'coldtonguecoldhamcoldbeefpickledgherkinssaladfrench

'O stop, stop,' cried the Mole in ecstacies: 'This is too much!'”
-- from
The Wind in the Willows

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Great Hamster Massacre • Middle-grade fiction

by Katie Davies   illustrated by Hannah Shaw
Available now   Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers  • Ages 8 - 12
"A top pick for slow or reluctant readers" (Kirkus) and "the first in a series that will appeal to fans of Roald Dahl and Dick King-Smith." (Booklist)
Story:  Anna and her brother, Tom, have always wanted a pet. And after their latest pestering campaign, their mother finally gives in and lets them choose a pair of hamsters from the local pet shop. But their happiness soon turns to horror when the hamsters are found mysteriously dead in their cage. Anna and Tom launch a full-scale investigation to determine who—or what—is behind the hamster homicides. Can they solve the case of the Great Hamster Massacre? 

Katie Davies' irresistibly funny mystery and Hanna Shaw's spot-on illustrations combine for a quirky, delightful read that is part detective tale, part diary, and altogether hilarious.

Story behind the story: 
Author Katie Davies has experience with hamster disasters. When she was twelve years old, after a relentless begging campaign, she was given two Russian Dwarf hamsters for Christmas. She is yet to recover from what happened to those hamsters. The Great Hamster Massacre is her first novel. Katie lives in North London with her husband, comedian Alan Davies, and their baby daughter. They do not have any hamsters.

Illustrator Hannah Shaw was born into a large family of sprout-munching vegetarians. She spent her formative years trying to be good at everything, from roller-skating to gymnastics, but she soon realized there wasn't much chance of her becoming a gold-medal-winning gymnast, so she resigned herself to writing stories and drawing pictures instead! Hannah currently lives in a little cottage in the Cotswolds with her husband, Ben the blacksmith, and her rescue dog, Ren. She finds her overactive imagination fuels new ideas but unfortunately keeps her awake at night!

Read an excerpt or, better yet, read and see this designed excerpt.  Here's just one sample spread below but there's much more to enjoy...

"Inspired use of simple words, straightforward syntax and effective repetition make this a top pick for slow or reluctant readers...Under the plot’s frothy surface lie serious depths...An auspicious debut." --Kirkus Reviews

"A flippy, fun and extremely fast-paced journey into the world of a very likable brother and sister--and their amusing family and friends. Intermittent silly pencil sketches fill the pages diary-style, creating a whimsical mood and adding comic relief.... Giggles are frequent among the kids in this book, and they will infect readers as well." --BookPage

"Whimsical, cartoonish pen-and-ink illustrations accompany the story and help lighten the seriousness....This is the first in a series that will appeal to fans of Roald Dahl and Dick King-Smith." --Booklist

"For young readers who can handle a bit of the macabre with their giggles, this strange little tale will be perfectly appealing." --Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

"An interesting take on how children deal with grief and shock.... Anna’s voice is engaging, and portrayals of various pets and neighbors (with accompanying hand-drawn side notes and cartoons) will entertain...give this dark comedy to reluctant readers, mystery lovers, and fans of narrator-illustrated fare like Jeff Kinney’s “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” books or Tom Angleberger’s The Strange Case of Origami Yoda (2010, both Abrams)." --School Library Journal

Order your reviewer's copy now.


Gail Shepherd said...

What is it about hamsters that are just so funny? Even the word is hilarious. Three cheers for more books about hamsters! Hamster lovers also see: Donna Gephart's MG novel: How to Survive Middle School, which features a hamster that sings.

Andrea Mack said...

Thanks for the review. I'll look for this one for my daughter.

dmuldawer said...

The Great Hamster Massacre is a delightful book for 3rd-5th graders. All the characters are realistic, and Anna has a sweet innocence to her perspective. The book flows smoothly and readers learn about the other characters through Anna's eyes.

While there are many sad events in the book, they don't seem sad because Anna is not an overly emotional character. She feels bad for a minute, but then looks at things logically. She's very drawn to comparisons and is interested in seeking resolutions. That said, she is no saint and gets into a certain amount of mischief.

This book reminded me of the Ramona Quimby books and will probably appeal greatly to upper elementary school children.

Picnic Basket Rating: 5

Heather Hill said...

"The Great Hamster Massacre" is a really witty and funny book, though I hesitate to donate it to my school library because of its title. Some parents may judge the book simply on the title, when it is really so much more a story about Anna, her brother Tom, and her best friend, Suzanne. By far, the funniest part of the book is when the kids are conducting the investigation around the neighborhood and interviewing suspects. I would read other books in the series so that I wouldn't miss out on that humor.

I give the book a 4 out of 5 only because of the title, which didn't really capture the spirit of the entire book.

Heather Hill, Reading Specialist
Enterprise Elementary
Woodbridge, VA

Katharine H said...

I have to disagree with the other comments so far. On the surface, it can look like a lighthearted book about hamsters, which is why I wanted to review it in the first place. Though, getting into it, I was shocked by the use of inappropriate context for the target age group, esecially the technicality of the hemorroids, the mention of the friend's mom's boyfriend and the baby-sitter, the adult magazines that get mentioned a few times, and the graphic description of the hamster massacre. I was also disappointed in the way Grandma's death was handled. I understand that is what led to Anna getting the hamsters, but I think most students would be confused by the way it is talked about. I hesitated to even have it in my fourth grade classroom and asked our school librarian to read it over. She agreed with me wholeheartedly that it was not something she thinks this age should be encouraged to read. We are actually donating it to the junior high for a more mature audience. I give it a 1 out of 5.

Julia Pitau said...

This was a cute story written in the voice of a young girl wanting a hamster. I enjoyed the adventures of her neighbor friend, Suzanne, and Anna. One thing that stood out was the improper use of language. Even though it is written in Anna's voice, my concern is for the student/young person reading the story. This is how bad habits are reinforced and difficult to break. Otherwise, the story was entertaining.

Picnic Rating: 2 1/2
Denair Charter Academy

EShay said...

I was not put off by the title - I was expecting something humorous. At first blush, it is funny. I enjoyed that Anna leaves out her older siblings because they don't count - they aren't part of her quality world. The investigation into the hamster disappearance is cute.
I assume most of the target audience would find the story funny and, hopefully, would miss many of the subtleties of the story.
Like others, I was astonished by some of the topics such as hemorrhoids and the description of the massacre. I had to stop reading for a bit and I am significantly older than the target audience.
This is not a book that I would endorse. I wanted to like it, but I just couldn't.

I give it a 1 out of 5.

Anonymous said...

I thought that the narrator of this story had an engaging voice. It brought you right into the action of the book. It is easy to get students to read books about animals, and hamsters are at the top of the list. I would give this book a 4 in my picnic basket.

PLLoggerR said...

After reading Katie Davies The Great Hamster Massacre I am left wondering the point of the book. Was it to help children cope with the death of an animal, the death of a grandparent, friendship spats or caring for animals? All of these topics, and more, are told from the point of view of a nine-year-old. With this point of view things can be mentioned (the boyfriend off with the baby sitter or piles) without going into details. In fact you can go on for half the book before ever getting to the hamsters that will eventually be "massacred" just as a nine-year-old would with the train of thought story telling that is typical of the age.

While I find many flaws in this book, I think children will either not notice them or not be bothered by them. For me this book is a Picnic Basket 2, not one I need on a picnic, but one that could be useful in talking about pets and death.
Director, Peacham Library

Anna-Lisa said...

The Great Hamster Massacre is a cute story for a 4th or 5th grader. Anna is the narrator and I enjoyed her accounts of the summer. She is very creative and assertive and I would hope that she would encourage readers to be creative and assertive as well and get out and do stuff with their time.

I give it a Picnic Basket rating of 2, it's a cute story and one to read in spare time but a child wouldn't miss much if they skipped this one.

loonyhiker said...

I thought this book would be a cute book for older elementary students and early middle school students. The title is definitely appealing to students and the illustrations and fonts in the book make this a fun book to read.

As for the story, it was an okay story but I’m afraid students may get bored with it before the story ends. I was disappointed by the ending because I felt it was a little flat. When I have my students write, I encourage them to have a conclusion and I felt this story lacked a conclusion. The title and parts of the story lead to the Great Hamster Massacre and then when it happens; it seemed kind of a letdown because it seemed to be mentioned in passing.

I would give this book 3 out of 5.

Pat Hensley
Greenville, SC

Tricia C. said...

I was really looking forward to reading this book, hoping that it would be a welcome addition to our library for the kids that are looking for goofy books. I did enjoy the fonts and pictures and think the kids will too. Personally, I didn't think this book was funny at all. There were several things in the book that left me wondering why they were included, especially the pictures that were copied from the book of a mom down the street. The inference was that they were not appropriate. I do think that there are some kids who will just read this as a fun book and not put too much though into some of the more odd aspects of it. We're going to wait and see their reactions before we consider ordering the sequel. I give it a 2.5 out of 5.

ReaderTeacher said...

I was excited to read this book based on the cover art and the title.

The children in the book as so honest and real. As a reader even though you are anticipating bad news the children still make you laugh.

It is funny how much trouble Anna can walk right into.

Anna's relationship with all of the characters make this story enduring and entertaining.

kheres said...

I'm at a middle school and have found that anything similar to Wimpy Kid doesn't stay on the shelf...Dork Diaries is even being read by boys! This book has spent little time in my library as it is currently wildfire in the 6th grade.