Friday, December 7, 2012

Runaway Hamster (Sweet Valley Kids #2)

Runaway Hamster (Sweet Valley Kids #2)
Francine Pascal
Bantam Skylark, 1989

Genre: Realistic, School


Runaway Hamster opens with Jessica looking at the class hamster, Tinkerbell, and being glad that the hamster is safely inside a cage. Jessica does not like Tinkerbell at all. Every weekend a new student gets to take Tinkerbell home and this weekend is a holiday break so whoever is chosen gets to keep Tinkerbell for a long time. Jessica hopes that isn't her as she thinks Tinkerbell is an ugly rat. On the other hand, Elizabeth wants to take Tinkerbell home and take care of her but Jessica is afraid of animals and doesn't really want the responsibility of having a pet. Of course, Elizabeth’s name is drawn as the lucky student who gets to take Tinkerbell home.

When they get home of Elizabeth tries to find a spot for Tinkerbell's cage in their room. This does not make Jessica happy as she is afraid that the rat might get out of her cage and into Jessica’s bed. Mrs. Wakefield comes to see what the girls are doing. Jessica says that they're stuck with “this disgusting thing.” Mrs. Wakefield tells her that she gave permission for the girls to take care of the hamster. Jessica says that she will not help take care of the hamster, but Mrs. Wakefield says that she has to do her share of the work too.

Everyday Elizabeth takes care of Tinkerbell. She gives her fresh water and food and plays with her. Meanwhile, Jessica still won’t go near her. One day, Amy comes over to play with Elizabeth. Amy suggests that they let Tinkerbell run around in the bathtub. Elizabeth thinks it's a good idea because she won't be able to climb out of the tub. Amy says that Tinkerbell would fit right inside the girls’ dollhouse. Elizabeth says that Jessica probably wouldn't like that, but decides to bring some of the furniture in to the bathroom. The girls set up the furniture in the bathtub and Tinkerbell climbs onto the bed. Elizabeth scolds the hamster when she starts nibbling on the furniture but decides that she so cute she’d like to write a story about her. Jessica and Lila show up and Jessica declares that she will never be able to play with the dollhouse again! Jessica refuses to even give the hamster a chance.

Mrs. Wakefield eventually forces Jessica to feed Tinkerbell. As she's feeding Tinkerbell, Steven calls from down the hall. She pushes the door shut and runs to his room. He has made a mousetrap for science class and wants to see if it will work on the hamster but Jessica refuses even though he promises that it is a humane trap.

Elizabeth is worried about Jessica feeding the hamster (and rightly so) so she decides to go upstairs and check on them. What Elizabeth discovers is that the cage door is open and Tinkerbell is gone. Jessica realizes that she didn't close the door tightly enough. Jessica is worried that she is going to get yelled at but Elizabeth says that if they can find Tinkerbell they won't even have to tell their mother. They check their room but can't find her so they move on to their parents’ room but she's not there either.

Worried that they will never find Tinkerbell, Jessica decides that they could just buy another hamster that looks exactly like her and no one would know the difference! Elizabeth doesn't like that idea because it's too much like lying. Jessica starts crying because she doesn't want everyone to hate her. Jessica is sure the plan will work because if no one can tell the twins apart they should not be able to tell two identical hamsters apart. Elizabeth only has $.51. Jessica only has a nickel. Elizabeth says that they'd better tell their mom. Jessica confesses to their mom. Mrs. Wakefield says that they will buy a new hamster but she expects Jessica to tell Mrs. Becker what happened.

Returning back to school, Jessica is forced to carry the cage and is nervous that everyone will be able to tell that the new hamster isn't Tinkerbell. Everyone is excited to see the hamster again and Jessica is sure everyone will be mad at her. When Mrs. Becker asks if they had any trouble with Tinkerbell Jessica starts crying and yells that the hamster isn't Tinkerbell. Everybody starts asking questions at once and starts agreeing that Tinkerbell was much better than the new hamster that is just sitting in its cage and is easily frightened. As Jessica explains what happens, Todd looks at Elizabeth and says that it wasn't her fault because he knows that she took good care of Tinkerbell. Everyone starts getting scared for the fate of Tinkerbell and Mrs. Becker says that California has good weather so if she got outside she would just become a wild hamster.

The class decides that the new hamster will be named Thumbelina. Later that afternoon, the twins’ dad returns home from a business trip. When Mr. Wakefield takes out a box of crackers from under the counter he frowns and says it looks like they must have some mice because something chewed a hole in the bottom of the box. The girls wonder if the “mouse” is Tinkerbell.

The twins and Mr. and Mrs. Wakefield frantically search the kitchen to find nothing. Steven yells from upstairs that he caught something in his mousetrap. Everyone rushes upstairs where Elizabeth carefully lifts the box and they find Tinkerbell. As Tinkerbell walks towards the edge of the desk Jessica jumps forward and grabs the hamster. Elizabeth tries to take the hamster away from her knowing that Jessica doesn’t want to hold her for very long. However, Jessica keeps Tinkerbell and starts to smile as she realizes that her whiskers tickle and her fur is really soft. Jessica begins to think that she might like her now and Steven is happy that his mousetrap works.

The next day they take Tinkerbell back to school and everyone is happy to see her. Mrs. Becker puts Tinkerbell in the cage with Thumbelina and says that they will be friends and now the class looks forward to taking two hamsters home instead of one. Lila says that the hamsters are identical twins just like Elizabeth and Jessica.

Mrs. Becker looks like she's sick and the book ends with the question of whether the twins and their classmates will discover that Mrs. Becker is out sick find out in the next book entitled The Twins' Mystery Teacher.

Thoughts and Nuggets of Wisdom for Research

Francine Pascal is a real author and she did create the Sweet Valley franchise. Unlike many series books that are ghostwritten, most of the Sweet Valley canon, while having Pascal’s name plastered on the front, does give credit on the title page to the actual author who wrote it. This volume was written by Molly Mia Stewart, who was a main author for the Sweet Valley Kids series. The book is illustrated by Ying-Hwa Hu.

Each book at some point in the first chapter (and this typically goes for the other series too) states the same exact line that appears in the series opener: “Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield were the only identical twins at Sweet Valley Elementary School. They looked exactly alike. They both had long blonde hair, which they wore with bangs, and blue-green eyes. Whenever they smiled, a dimple appeared in their left cheeks.”

The paragraph about Jessica and Elizabeth is identical to the paragraph from the first book. However, as this is the second book, readers do get some new additional details. We learn that Jessica doesn't like to do homework and always tries to get out of doing her chores while Elizabeth is very responsible and loves school. She pays attention in class and enjoys reading mystery books and writing poems.

This entry in the series is pretty devoid of any true gems of wisdom. One interesting thing to note is that we are introduced to a new character, Caroline Pearce, who is the stereotypical teacher's pet, always asking to erase the blackboard or help pass out things. It is interesting that this is the same Caroline who will later appear in the Sweet Valley Twins books as the stereotypical “gossip” girl who knows everything about everyone often before anyone else knows.

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