Before I knew that Astrid Desbordes was a French writer, I felt like Daydreams of a Solitary Hamster embodied a sort of European storytelling style. With odd outbursts and strange proclamations by the characters, many children and adults may feel confused by the tale. However, some of the dialogue made me laugh out loud as it embraced its peculiarity. For example, when all of the animals discuss the words they think are the most beautiful, one says “friendship” while another says “loyalty.” The self-absorbed Hamster bursts out, “waffle.”
The whole story is a meandering collection of short vignettes that describe Hamster preparing for and then throwing himself a birthday party. Though he is surrounded by animals who are his friends, he counts himself solitary, a cut above the rest. With a particular dislike of Rabbit, Hamster tolerates his “friends” but wishes they would acknowledge his greatness. The middle of the story seems a bit long, and I will fully admit to not quite “getting” Mole’s novel about a caterpillar/worm. However, the musings of the animals are priceless gems that might either amuse, astonish, or bore young readers.
The drawings are simple, reminding me of an old fashioned newspaper comic strip. The mostly plain backgrounds leave the characters as the main focus with their cute cartoon faces and anthropomorphic movements. Initially, this lulled me into thinking the drawings might not be anything special, but certain images convey a great deal about the characters and how they think. Small moments grabbed my attention, like Hamster bowing when he was alone after his party.
This book is not something that could be pulled off the shelf as a surefire winner for just any kid who walks into the library, but there will be certain children who will delight in the strange, wonderful world of philosophical animals that Desbordes has created. Adults reading with the children may get even more out of the book as they see traits of people they know reflected in the various animal personalities.