Dark humour is at the root of the latest offering from Van Allsburg and like its predecessors there is a lesson to be learned from the story, though there is much more colour in the illustrations herein. Told from the viewpoint of a somewhat grumpy hamster it documents what happens when he is bought from the pet shop by one, Pigtails who quickly tires of her purchase and is then passed on to a series of young owners, all of whom mistreat him in some way until he eventually becomes the class pet at a primary school. There he is tended by different groups of children until the term ends and a boy elects to take him home for the Christmas holidays.
However, Sweetie Pie’s troubles are by no means over. The boy stops to play in the playground on his way home and goes off completely forgetting his charge and leaving the poor creature there in his cage which as darkness falls, becomes full of snow. Distraught, the boy returns next morning to discover an empty, open-doored cage. Back at school at the start of a new term, the other children soon get over the loss of their erstwhile pet and move on. The hamster is replaced by a guinea pig; but Sweetie Pie too has in fact moved on. He now lives very happily in a tree with a pair of squirrels and thus has the last word, so to speak.
I can see that this story may well have animal lovers throwing up their hands in despair as they read of the repeated uncaring treatment of the small rodent. I have to say that although I didn’t find the storyline particularly appealing I cannot help but admire Van Allsburg’s wonderfully expressive watercolour, pencil and pen and ink illustrations. They really give a feeling of Sweetie Pie’s changing feelings as the events proceed; the sight of that dog Buster leering in through the cage bars chllled me, let alone the poor hamster in his cage. And that picture of a very irritated Sweetie Pie clad in a pink doll’s dress speaks volumes.