Title: The Giant Rat of SumatraThe Giant Rat of Sumatra
Author: Sid Fleischman
Illustrator: John Hendrix
Pages: 194
Recommended Ages: 10 & up
Star Rating: ★★★★

I saw this title as I was glancing through a stack of books at a garage sale. The Giant Rat of Sumatra. It instantly rang a bell. The giant rat of Sumatra was the name of an undocumented case solved by Sherlock Holmes. Was this a piece of imitation fiction based on the master detective? I would soon find out.

As it turns out, although the name was derived from the Holmes stories, but book itself had nothing to do with Holmes. Instead, it told the story of a pirate ship…

The Story.

Shipwreck never wanted to be a seaman. But his step-father, a harsh ship’s officer, had insisted that at eleven years old, Shipwreck was old enough to earn his own keep aboard a whaler. That was before the whaler went down in a storm leaving Shipwreck (nick-named thus for his survival) and the chief mate as its sole survivors.

Captain Alejandro Gallows, commander of the pirate ship which rescued both Shipwreck and One-Arm Ginger, was a surprisingly kind man who understood Shipwreck’s desire to return home to Boston and his mother. But first they must dock at San Diego, and before Shipwreck can ship out, the war between Mexico and America traps him in California.

Will Shipwreck ever return home?

Discussion.

I must say, I really enjoyed this story. Sid Fleischman has the tendency to over exaggerate whatever genre he is using, and thus make it feel ridiculous. However, while The Giant Rat of Sumatra is a bit exaggerated, this only lends itself to the fun.

The majority of The Giant Rat of Sumatra is set on land. Captain Gallows decides that he wants to become a respectable don, and purchases a hacienda in Spanish controlled California (1840s). Because I so enjoy the Zorro stories (also set during this time frame), I instantly connected to the plot. Captain Gallows and his men have run-ins with local bandits (the most notorious of whom, Senorita Wildcat, is a woman), and this added more fun and derring-do to the story.

Shipwreck’s relationships with his mother and step-father play a back role in this story. From the little we learn, we are able to gather that his step-father was harsh and his mother, though affection did not have a strong attachment to her son. The main relationship of the story is undoubtedly between Shipwreck and Captain Gallows – Captain Gallows is a dynamic leader who takes Shipwreck under his wing. Shipwreck, in his turn, trusts and admires Captain Gallows.

Shipwreck refers to an occurrence as an evil omen.

A few variations of God’s name are used.

Conclusion. Fun for those who enjoy piratical adventures. Also recommended from Sid Fleischman is Jim Ugly.

Review © 2014 Laura Verret

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