By: Lynn Reid Banks
You all remember I, Houdini by Lynn Reid Banks. You know, the story of a Hamster who escapes every cage; every trap; every family.
Well, I’m sure you remember his other book, Indian in the Cupboard.
However you choose recall him, remember this I, Houdini is not only essential for kids, but adults as well.
While initially, the text appears to be a modern retelling of Gulliver’s travels in Brobdingnag, Houdini experiences our world with all the fascination we lost growing up; fascinations ranging from cylindrical trash cans, internal wiring, the woodwork of a house—oh the joys of finding a good wood chew to gnaw on; munch, munch, munch.
I’m sorry I’ve gotten lost.
Unlike Gulliver however, Houdini experiences the world in hindsight, letting his audience know what the gargantuan objects are ahead of time (by name), and how he fumbled understanding them initially.
Not to mention that, while exceedingly exceptional, he only grows a knack for escaping because he’s continually making mistakes and getting caught. He doesn’t do this to challenge himself, it’s because he genuinely battles with his inner nature, being a primitive hamster. He hates his fellow kind, and can hardly bare a mating ritual—although he does get past that. His misanthropic attitude even lends to the consummation as he references himself as a buck in need of his doe—a hamster, people.
It may seem like I’m obsessed with hamster sex, but this scene is incredibly poetic and is in no way inappropriate for children and even stands as an example of how children’s literature should be accessible to adults as well—especially since they’ll likely be the ones reading to the demographic. But, in this scene, he squeezes in adult humor while retaining a character trait, making it all the more organic.
Houdini has no sense of time, he can’t comprehend it. The book takes place over the course of a month, and he talks like it’s been years. Because of this, when the two hamsters finally mate, he says that it was just the right amount of time, not knowing how long that is, but long enough—very obviously experiencing the insecurities of a first-time lover. This kind of humor plays for all ages.
While he wrestles with his inner nature, struggling between being of higher intelligence and his primitive needs, he also tries to understand humans, who are even more fascinating with language and their concept of God.
Having no religious affiliation, he does appreciate investing in a higher power, something to thank for his freedom. And actually, he replaces his god when he comes across a better one.
If you have a child, or better yet, want to reclaim that inner one, you should read this book. It’s quick, it’s glorious, and well worth it.
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