by Josh Lieb

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Author Information:
Middle Grade Monday – Ratscalibur by Josh Lieb: http://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2015/06/middle-grade-monday-ratscalibur-by-josh-lieb/

Exclusive: Ratscalibur cover reveal and interview with author Josh Lieb:

Be a ragician. Learn some basic magic tricks:

Design your own “Ratscalibur” sword.

Do rats make good pets? Rat species, strains, breeds and types:

Learn about rats:
Fancy Pet Rats – Explore the Many Varieties:


AFRMA Fancy Rat Standards:

Explore Camelot, King Arthur’s kingdom:



Camelot, King Arthur & the Knights of the Round Table:


King Arthur was friends with a magician named Merlin. Pretend you’re a king or queen and are friends with Merlin. What kinds of things would you do together? What does Merlin look like?

Design your own kingdom or realm. Be sure to include the court, (king, queen, knights, etc.). What will you name your kingdom? Design a coat of arms and a family crest for your kingdom:

Ratscalibur is similar to King Arthur and his sword, Excalibur. Explore King Arthur and his legend  How did the sword get in the stone?:

Plan a menu for a rat. Plan a dinner, a breakfast or a lunch. What do you imagine you’d like to eat if you were suddenly turned into a rat?

Interview Gondorff the Gray. What would you ask?

Draw a map of the lower realm. On the compass, include the cardinal directions. On a map key, include the symbols for lower realm dangers, sites to see, and other tidbits you may add.

You’re a rat in charge of the lower realm’s cats. What’s involved in taking care of them? Plan their meals, exercise schedule, and any other routines for their care.

Learn about sword-play:

There was music in medieval times. Learn about different medieval instruments and make one:

Design medieval clothes:


Plan a meal fit for a king. Choose your main course and sides:



Design your own castle. In the medieval ages, people in castles used a “toilet” that dumped right into the moat. Design a better system:


Plan a quest for you and your knights. Where will you go? What are you seeking? What things will you take with you?

Pick your job in the middle ages. What do you do? How do you support yourself and your family?:


Have a medieval party. Choose your entertainment and practice, play and have fun:



Discussion Questions:

Joey moves with his mom to a new city and he doesn’t feel at home yet. What kinds of things might Joey have to get used to living in the city? Have you ever moved? How did you feel about it?

Uncle Patrick brings Joey a rat for a pet. Would you want a pet rat? Why or why not? Would your parents allow you to have a pet rat?

Joey is startled and a little scared to hear his pet rat speak. How do you imagine you’d react if your pet suddenly spoke?

After Joey willingly offers his finger to Gondorff, he’s changed to a rat. What are some things you’d do if you were turned into a rat? Would you have offered your finger willingly?

Often in literature, a young boy goes on a quest to find something, usually an object of some kind, but the young boy usually learns something about himself. What other things did Joey find on his quest for Gondorff? Would you like to go on a quest? What do you think you’d learn?

How is Joey affected by getting to know Gondorff, Brutilda, Parsifur, the Princess and the others?   

The rats have enemies, some are their own kind. What enemies do you imagine you’d have as a rat?  Are these enemies ones that naturally are enemies to rats? Do you have enemies?

The rats use cats for transportation, much like we do with horses. What do you think are some other animals rats use?  Is it right for the rats to use the cats this way? Is it right for humans to use animals?

King Uther, at one point, thinks his kingdom is lost. How does working together help save their kingdom?  Why do you think teamwork is important? How have you worked in a team to accomplish something?

How come Brutilda cannot take Ratscalibur from Joey? What qualities does Joey have that serve him well in the rats’ kingdom?

Uncle Patrick finally finds Joey in the rat kingdom. Why did Uncle Patrick follow him? Do you think it was out of loyalty, guilt, or is that just what an uncle would do?

If your uncle brought you a pet rat, what would you do?  

Do you think Joey’s mom was right to be worried about both Joey and his Uncle? Have you ever caused your parents to worry?

Brutilda is a refugee from a kindergarten class and her experience sounds terrible. What do you imagine it would be like to be a rat in a class? Do you think you’d miss your family? Would you be bored?

Sir Parsifur rides Chequers into the palace and Aramis yells that “the beast doesn’t belong in the palace.” What do you think about the rats attitude about the cats they ride as horses? Would you rather be a rat, and ride a cat, or would you rather be the cat?

Do you think Joey and Uncle Patrick should tell Joey’s mom about their adventure and where they were? Why or why not?

Do you think Joey’s mom would believe them? Why or why not? What would you tell your parents?

Joey tells his mom he thinks there are lots of scary things in the city, but he’s not going to be scared by them. What do you think caused his change of attitude? Would you be scared? Is being scared a choice?

Why do you think Joey says it’s great to be grounded? Have you ever been grounded? How did you like it?

What do you think Uncle Patrick will do now? Do you think Joey’s mom forgives him? Why or why not?

Book Talk Teasers:

Josh Lieb with Jon Stewart:

In a maker-space, use some legos and other materials, to build a castle.

See how easily a rat can wriggle up your toilet:

Read Ch. 4, p. 11 through p. 12 “This is definitely the weirdest day of my life.” (Show illustration on page 13.)

Read Ch. 5, p. 16 through p. 19 “This was a cat.(Show illustrations.)

Read Alikes:

Animal fantasy, fantasy fiction:
Avi. Poppy. Poppy the deer mouse urges her family to move next to a field of corn big enough to feed them all forever, but Mr. Ocax, a terrifying owl, has other ideas. (NoveList)

Epstein, Adam Jay. The Familiars. When an alley cat named Aldwyn passes himself off as a magical companion to Jack, a wizard in training, Aldwyn and his fellow “familiars,” a blue jay and tree frog, must save the kingdom after the queen of Vastia kidnaps Jack and two others. (NoveList)

Hunter, Erin. Into the wild. For generations, four clans of wild cats have shared the forest. When their warrior code is threatened by mysterious deaths, a house cat named Rusty may turn out to be the bravest warrior of all. (NoveList)

Jacques, Brian. Loamhedge: a tale from Redwall. While a group of adventurers from Redwall seeks out the ancient abbey of Loamhedge in hopes of curing a young haremaid’s paralysis, Redwall is besieged by vermin. (NoveList)

Jones, Allan Frewin. Trundle’s quest. Trundle Boldoak’s simple life as the town lamplighter is turned upside-down the night he meets Esmeralda, a Roamany hedgehog, who whisks him away on a quest to find six fabled crowns and fulfill his role in an ancient prophecy. (NoveList)

Lasky, Kathryn. The siege. As war erupts between the evil Pure Ones and the brave owls of Ga’Hoole, Soren is summoned by the elders to return to St. Aegolius Academy for Orphaned Owls in order to restore peace. (NoveList)

Russell, Christine. The quest of the Warrior Sheep. When a silvery object falls from the sky, the five sheep of Eppingham Farm decide they must save the sheep god and all of the sheeply nation, despite what dangers may lie ahead on their quest. (NoveList)

Wagner, Hilary. Nightshade City. Eleven years after the cruel Killdeer took over the Catacombs far beneath the human’s Trillium City, Juniper Belancourt, assisted by Vincent and Victor Nightshade, leads a maverick band of rats to escape and establish their own city. (NoveList)

Animal fiction, books to movies:
DiCamillo, Kate. The tale of Despereaux: being the story of a mouse, a princess, some soup, and a spool of thread. The adventures of Despereaux Tilling, a small mouse of unusual talents, the princess that he loves, the servant girl who longs to be a princess, and a devious rat determined to bring them all to ruin. (NoveList)

O’Brien, Robert C. Mrs. Frisby and the rats of NIMH. When a little field mouse falls ill, his mother, Mrs. Frisby, seeks help from the other animals and discovers a secret laboratory. (NoveList)

Animal fiction:
Stilton, Geronimo. The Dragon Prophecy: the Fourth Adventure in the Kingdom of Fantasy. Princess Sterling sends the Dragon of the Rainbow and Scribblehopper to bring Geronimo Stilton back to the Kingdom of Fantasy, because he is the hero in the dragon prophecy who will find the stolen dragon egg and restore harmony to the kingdom. (NoveList)

Fantasy fiction:
Bearn, Emily. Tumtum & Nutmeg: Adventures beyond Nutmouse Hall. Wealthy, married mice Tumtum and Nutmeg find adventure when they secretly try to help two human siblings who live in a tumbledown cottage with their absent-minded inventor father. (NoveList)

Cole, Henry. A nest for Celeste: a story about art, inspiration, and the meaning of home. Celeste, a mouse longing for a real home, becomes a source of inspiration to teenaged Joseph, assistant to the artist and naturalist John James Audubon, at a New Orleans, Louisiana, plantation in 1821. (NoveList)

Fielder, Lisa. Mouseheart. Follows the experiences of an escaped pet shop mouse who descends into a utopian rat civilization before confronting threatening rebels, ravenous cats, and a generations-long battle involving deadly secrets. (NoveList)

Jarvis, Robin. The Dark Portal. While on a rescue mission, a few daring mice journey below to the sewers to an evil world populated by rats who peel mice before eating them and worship the Dark Lord. (NoveList)

Lasky, Kathryn. The shattering. In the midst of war, Soren’s sister, Eglantine, unwittingly becomes a spy for Kludd, leader of the Pure Ones, a group of evil owls. She is brainwashed by an owl sent by the Pure Ones to infiltrate the Great Ga’Hoole Tree. Her odd behavior eventually attracts attention, and Soren and his friends vow to find out what’s wrong with Eglantine. They ultimately help her reverse the effects and Kludd continues to battle against the Guardians of Ga’Hoole for control of their tree. (NoveList)

Lowry, Lois. Bless this mouse. Mouse Mistress Hildegarde musters all her ingenuity to keep a large colony of church mice safe from the exterminator and to see that they make it through the dangerous Blessing of the Animals. (NoveList)

Fantasy fiction, translations:
Tamm, Henrik. Ninja Timmy. In the city of Elyzandrium, an intrepid cat and his animal friends meet an inventor of magical toys, investigate the case of the stolen laughter, and ultimately become a successful crime fighting gang of ninjas. (NoveList)

Fantasy fiction, prophecies:
Alvarez, Jennifer Lynn. Starfire. Star is prophesized to become the most powerful winged horse in Anok on his first birthday, but he must first overcome his malformed wings that make him unable to fly and threats from the leaders of the five herds. (NoveList)

Animal fiction, sea stories:
Peck, Richard. Secrets at sea. In 1887, the social-climbing Cranstons voyage from New York to London, where they hope to find a husband for their awkward older daughter, secretly accompanied by Helena and her mouse siblings, for whom the journey is both terrifying and wondrous as they meet an array of titled humans despite their best efforts at remaining hidden. (NoveList)

Book Reviews:

By Josh Lieb. Illus. by Tom Lintern.
2015. 192p. Penguin/Razorbill, $16.99 (9781595142429). Gr. 4–6.
First published April 1, 2015 (Booklist).

Joey’s destiny takes an unforeseen turn when his uncle gives him a pet rat that is anything but ordinary: he is Gondorff, a “ragician” from the realm of Ravalon, which is in dire need of help. Gondorff, who is dying, magically turns Joey into a rat and saddles him with the task of delivering a message to his kingdom. Upon finding Ravalon, hunger leads Joey to pull a spork from a scone, and he is named the hero who will fulfill a long-told rat prophecy. Teaming up with the princess, a loyal guinea pig, a rat knight, and a herd of cats, Joey sets off on a quest to stop the evil Salaman from taking over Ravalon. Full of clever dialogue and hilarious puns, this is a delightful homage to Brian Jacques’ Redwall series, Lord of the Rings, and Arthurian legend. While the plot holds few surprises, the play on the fantasy trope is well done. Expect more to come from Joey and Ravalon. Perfect for readers who enjoy animal fantasy brushed with humor and charm.

HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Having worked with many of television’s comedy greats, Lieb has a strong handle on humor and parody. Don’t be surprised if this novel achieves best-seller status like his first, I Am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to Be Your Class President (2009). Sarah Bean Thompson


Horn Book:
Lieb, Josh Ratscalibur
173 pp. Penguin/Razorbill (Penguin Young Readers Group) 2015. ISBN 978-1-59514-242-9

(4) 4-6 Illustrated by Tom Lintern. Chronicles of the Low Realm series. After the impressive feat of pulling Ratscalibur, the legendary Spork, from the Scone, human-boy-turned-hero-rat Joey is sent on a quest to save the Kingdom Ravalon. Lieb borrows from classic legends and Tolkien with abandon; it’s all a bit over-the-top, but the fast pace keeps the plot moving and Joey is a likable reluctant hero. Black-and-white drawings enhance Joey’s heroic adventures. (Fall 2015 Guide)


School Library Journal:
Gr 3–6—Joey, a soon-to-be seventh grader, has recently moved to New York City with his mother. He is not particularly enthralled by big city life. Soon though, Joey’s uncle brings home a special new friend for him—a rat, just like the creatures he has seen about the city. To Joey’s surprise, his new pet rodent begins speaking to him from his cage. He learns that the elderly rat is a ragician (a rat magician) named Gondorff the Grey and he has a special mission for Joey. He must deliver a simple message to his rat cohorts, “I have failed.” The dying Gondorff bites Joey, transforming him into a rat and setting into motion this fun, humorous adventure story that plays off of the mythical Excalibur story. Edoardo Ballerini narrates with enthusiasm, wonderfully voicing each character with lively, distinct personalities and accents. Listeners will be on the edge of their seats while Ballerini takes them along on Joey’s dangerous and action-filled quest into the world of rats, crows, and other animals. Full of puns and parodied names from classic fantasy adventure tales, this animal adaptation is sure to please young fans of “The Lord of the Rings,” the “Redwall” books, and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh. VERDICT School and public libraries will want to add this first volume in the “Chronicle of the Low Realm” tales to their collections, as this series is sure to become a favorite.—Nicole Lee Martin, Grafton-Midview Public Library, OH


The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books:
Lieb, Josh. Ratscalibur. Illustrated by Tom Lintern. Razorbill / Penguin, 2015. hb 97815951429, ebook 9780698188815

The busy streets of New York are offputting enough for newcomer Joey, but the city becomes especially dangerous when the seventh-grade boy is transformed into a three-inch-tall rat by Gondorff the Gray, a dying Ragician (a wielder of rat magic) who tasks Joey with getting an important message to the king of Ravalon. Hoping to find another Ragician (or Dogician, Squagician, whatever) to transform him back, Joey navigates the trash heaps, back alleys, and dog doo-doo laden sidewalks (which all smell delicious to Joey’s new rat nose) to make it to Ravalon, where he accidentally pulls the Spork from the Scone and becomes the prophesied hero that will save the kingdom from the dark forces of Salaman. Lieb may have his tongue firmly planted in his cheek when it comes to the various references to Arthurian legends, The Lord of the Rings, and The Three Musketeers, but he also creates an absorbing fantasy, rich in its world building, careful in its pacing, and convincing in its characterizations. Joey is immediately likable as the Everykid turned hero, and the ragtag group he accumulates on his quest is equally delightful (particularly amusing is Brutilda, a guinea-pig escapee from a kindergarten class, now a devoted servant to King Uther). The humor is spot on for the age group, and so is the adventure, with Joey going up against one-eyed alley cats, raging sewer rats, and evil crows in epic battles. Readers who enjoyed Jonell’s Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat (BCCB 1/08) will be pleased to go on another under-city journey with Joey. Review Code: R — Recommended. Grades 4-6. Kate Quealy-Gainer (The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, July/August 2015 (Vol. 68, No. 11))