The Infamous Ratsos, by Kara LaReaua (Candlewick August 2016) is a lovely early reader/first chapter book that is both funny in its words and pictures, and sweet in a valuable life lesson offering way.
Two young rats, Louie and Ralphie, want to be Tough, like their dad, Big Lou. Their mama is no longer with them, and Big Lou is Tough, and encourages his boys to be too. They walk to school (buses are for softies), they spend recess leaning against that wall, glaring and spitting (playing is for softies). But then they decide the time has come to prove to the world how tough they are, by setting out to do bad things. Each chapter tells of a new effort to be rotten, and how every time they try to be unkind, it backfires and they find they have done something good and made someone happy.
Their father finds out...but instead of being disappointed that his boys weren't tough, Big Lou shows his own soft side. "Being tough all the time is so...so....tough," he says, and pulls them in for a hug. And the Ratso family figures that life is tough enough without making it harder on folks, so you might as well do what you can to make things easier for them (just on the off chance you're missing the point, that's the life lesson mentioned above, and I really do like it, but the Ratso family don't all become goody two shoes, so don't worry about it getting too much).
The illustrations by Matt Myers add the humor of the story, with lots of nice details for the observant child to appreciate it (the beaver teacher's dress is decorated with logs, the "hug someone" on their mugs has been changed to "slug someone" and "bug someone", etc.). So the whole package is very nicely age appropriate and diverting for the 5 -7 year old emerging reader.
Which is basically what Kirkus said too "A nicely inventive little morality “tail” for newly independent readers" but Kara LaReau and Matt Myers manage to be amusing without forced puns (although thinking about it Harder and Deeper, Matt Myers dances on the edge at times--like the graffiti reading "I am a Bad Ger." But Myers is working within the story, and Kirkus is just being cute for no good reason.....)
(nb--I don't know anyone who is actually counting the dead mothers in this year's crop of children's books, but here's another one; there are almost enough of them to constitute an army of the undead! In this case, a dead and much missed Mama Ratso, who was the sweet softness in the Ratso home, is much more powerful than a live one, preaching at her family, would have been....but still, dead is dead for the purposes of counting).
disclaimer: Kara is one of the masterminds of Providence's own Kidlit Drink night, which I have been enjoying very much (thank you Kara!) which is the reason why I have now read and posted about The Infamous Ratsos, but I think I would have said much the same sort of thing regardless of my favorable bias.
Also thanks to Kara's book launch, I find myself in a picture at Publishers Weekly (I am fourth from the left), which doesn't happen every day...