Do we really need another odd-couple easy reader, even if it is a comic? If it’s Gnome and Rat, the answer is yes! Ever since the debut of Arnold Lobel’s classic couple, Frog and Toad, the contrasting friends and roommates has been a popular trope. Elephant and Piggie are the modern classic standard, but it’s an easy form to fit a simple plot and text. Authors and artists have been churning out books like these with varying results, especially along the lines of actually portraying healthy relationships and friendships, and this new offering is delightful and heart-warming.
In a stump in the woods, with snazzy red-and-white spotted mushroom decor, live Gnome and Rat. Together, they have many adventures, most of them centered around Gnome’s hat! Gnome tries to do magic, looks for a temporary replacement for his hat, and then a permanent replacement, all with the quiet, gently amused support of Rat. Along the way they meet other creatures, including a duck named Jerry, a possum known as the “Hat Man”, two magic pink rabbits, and other friends. The text is minimal, with many panels almost completely wordless, but it will need a reader fairly fluent in both textual and visual literacy to decode this story. There are several different fonts used and although the text is brief, there are subtle cues in the characters’ faces that need to be read along with the dialogue.
Gnome is a roly-poly little creature, with a snowy white beard that almost completely hides him and, of course, a bright red, pointed hat! Rat is sleek and elegant in gray, with darker gray patches, and a thin curl of a tail, donning a snazzy yellow scarf and stylish glasses when needed. Gnome bounces off the page with exuberance, while Rat quietly follows along, calming him down as necessary and always there when needed. But this isn’t a one-sided friendship; Rat clearly loves their goofy companion and enjoys Gnome’s antics, comforting him when he’s sad and helping him out when he encounters various hat-related disasters. Gnome’s face pops with larger-than-life emotions—sad, happy, inspired, and mischievous—while Rat’s straight-faced, more subtle humor shines through in their actions and words. The background is a brightly colored forest, with snow-capped mountains, green, flowering meadows, sparkling blue ponds, and lush forests.
This gently humorous offering is threaded with the soft, comforting feeling of a warm hug. Rat and Gnome both pay attention to each other’s needs and feelings, and exhibit a caring, sweet friendship between two very different personalities. Don’t be surprised if readers demand their own gnome-hat to try out some shenanigans on their own, or want to hear this comforting story over and over again.
Gnome and Rat
By Lauren Stohler
Publisher Age Rating: 6-9 years
NFNT Age Recommendation: Easy Readers (5-9)