"Malcolm at Midnight" by W.H. Beck; pictures by Brian Lies; Houghton Mifflin Books, 265 pages, $16.99.

Fifth-grade teacher Mr. Binney buys a pet for his classroom thinking it's a mouse. Malcolm is actually a rat, and he loves McKenna School and the attention from the kids, the tasty crumbs, his Comf-E-Cube.

Then he discovers the Midnight Academy, a secret society of classroom pets that tries to keep the "nutters" (kids) out of trouble. The society doesn't think much of rats, so Malcolm goes on pretending to be a mouse. But then Aggy, the kindly iguana, disappears from her classroom, and Malcolm is the prime suspect. (He already has broken the rule: Never communicate with humans.) A window is broken, something valuable is stolen from Mr. Binney's desk, a strange shriek is heard late at night, and Malcolm makes quite the pet detective as he tries to figure out who or what is planning mischief at McKenna School.

The author does a great job creating vivid animal characters (including some very sinister villains) along with page-turning suspense. This book is also very funny. (Malcolm's first experience with watermelon mango blast chewing gum is hilarious: "The flavor exploded in his head. No wonder the nutters were so cheezy for gum! The flavor. Magical. And the chew! It never went away!")

- Jean Westmoore


"Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical" is now playing through Oct. 7 at Theatre of Youth, 203 Allen St. For information, call 884-4400, Ext. 304, or visit


Some insects, such as bees, wasps and ants, carry a loaded weapon with them at all times - a stinger full of poison. Bugs that sting are generally defending themselves or their nests. In most cases, a bee sting will only hurt for a while, unless a person is allergic to bee stings.

- "Time Book of Why"