The Mayor of Central Park, by Avi
Ages 8 to 12
The Washington Post:
The world of rats and squirrels, above the heads and below the feet of the human population of New York City, is illuminated in two new books that discover rivalries and alliances within the critters' camps. A rat mafia takes over the squirrels' Central Park in Avi's The Mayor of Central Park, but even in war, inter-rodent love can still bloom....
The Mayor of Central Park, the latest from prolific author Avi, is a clever and thrilling tale of a turf war over New York's most famous park. Set in 1900, the story of the rat mafia's hostile takeover is narrated in the sly, wisecracking voice of a hardboiled journalist. The characters are vivid and eccentric: There's Oscar Westerwit, the titular mayor, self-satisfied and content as the big squirrel in a little tree; Big Daddy Duds, the boss of the rats, who adores baseball, diamonds and himself; Maud, the boss's daughter,whose large heart and cute face put her at the center of every romantic entanglement; and Uriah Pilwick, Duds's possum deputy who may not be the dull-witted heavy that he seems.
One fine day in May, Oscar discovers that the star pitcher for his baseball team is missing; soon after, the rats invade the park, looking for rich new territory to exploit. With trees being felled and all the peaceful denizens of the park uprooted from their homes, Oscar must find a way to win back the park- along with Maud's heart. The story is embellished with cunning period detail,although the history lessons can be stilted at times. For instance, in the midst of a conversation about the missing player, Oscar lectures, "Guys like us have been around here long before 1857 when the park was built; long before the Dutch showed up in 1612. Long even before the Lenape Indians named this island Manna-hata." But such passages rarely hamper the swiftness of the plot.
Avi's prose displays an obvious love of language, including ample alliteration ("Frustrated as a floppy fish in a frying pan"), snappy dialogue ("I'd kinda like to catch the cash." "Sure thing, Bigalow, but if I chop you coin, you got to swear to never noodle near my daughter no more") and inventive descriptions ("The moon might have been high in the sky as it moved to midnight, but Oscar's mood was hugging his ankles").
This New York is brash, energetic and wittily translated to fit Avi's anthropomorphic world, while Brian Floca's full-page illustrations skillfully render both the characters and their park. In his elegantly detailed pencil drawings, a battalion of rats, armed and at attention, fills Bethesda Fountain Terrace (the angel of the fountain, of course, is here a squirrel); in another, the nattily attired Oscar hatches a plot in the dim bar of the Rock and Mole Cafe.
Both Harold's Tail and The Mayor of Central Park imaginatively address the conundrum of urban wildlife. What's really the difference between the despised rat and the beloved squirrel, other than the scaly and serpentine tail of one and the bouncy and bushy rump of the other? These books prove the point that you can't judge a critter by its fur. —Andrea Thompson. Full review here.
It all takes place in a New York City unlike the one you or I will ever know. It is 1900 and the great city is inhabited not by people but by animals, all sorts of animals who go about their business dressed in the dapper clothing of the times. There are squirrels and rabbits, crocodiles and goats, possums and various birds. There is also a very unsavory rat called Big Daddy Duds who decides that he would like to move uptown to a place with fresh air and open spaces. Not content to live in the seedy climes of downtown, he takes over the home of Oscar Westerwit, the much loved and admired mayor of Central Park. Soon we find ourselves caught up in a convoluted story about crime, love, honor, loyalty, and baseball. Though it is hard, at first, to understand what the author is trying to do with this tale, there is a point when things fall into place. Soon it becomes enjoyable and we find ourselves reading, galloping along, unstoppable. Punctuated with delightful humor of a unique sort, Avi has created a very entertaining book filled with lines that sound as if they came straight out of some odd and delightful little play. Using slang-filled colloquial language, he draws you into a world where squirrels wear spats and where the hero finds his friend Sam injured after being shot at—"laid out like a welcome mat without much welcome left." Brian Floca has helped to bring this animal world, dressed up in turn-of-the-century-America, to life through the creation of several of his wonderful illustrations. Maps of New York City and Central Park would have made it easier to understand some of the text for those not familiar with the island of Manhattan and its great park. —Marya Jansen-Gruber.
Avi reinvents himself with every book, and this lighthearted venture is no exception. The time is 1900; the place is New York City's Central Park; the protagonist is a dapper squirrel named Oscar Westerwit, who is the locus of sociability and the manager of the Central Park Green Sox baseball team. Unfortunately, trouble's a-brewin' with the team. Oscar's star pitcher has gone missing, and an army of rats, led by the nefarious Big Daddy Duds, has invaded the park and cut down the tree where Oscar's mother lives. Twinned to this plot is the story of Duds' sweet, sassy daughter, Maud, who leaves the family home to find a better, more wholesome life as a nurse. Oscar tries to save the park from the rats, Maud and baseball help serve up the thrilling denouement, and the whole thing is written in delicious period slang ("youse" and "dear boy" and "this ain't too half bad"). A quick, fun period piece. —Grace Anne DeCandido.
School Library Journal:
This animal fantasy cum comic-gangster tale is spiced with some old-fashioned romance and set at the turn of the 19th century. The narrator, a cub reporter at the Daily Mirror, tells the story of squirrel Oscar Westerwit, acclaimed as the "Mayor" of Central Park. The story centers around Oscar's struggle against the rat Big Daddy Duds, when he and his gang invade the park, terrorize the residents, and vandalize their homes. The book opens with the star pitcher of the Central Park Green Sox going missing: the first sign that something is amiss. The resolution to the conflict comes through a baseball game, and the character who replaces the missing player provides a pleasurable plot twist. The lighthearted, almost frothy characterization and conversational storytelling style work fine, and successfully evoke a tough New York, complete with payoffs and tip-offs. However, the fantasy is less successful. Some animals live in trees, albeit fully furnished, even electrified ones, leading readers to believe that they coexist with a human-sized world. On the other hand, wealthy Mr. van Blunker, a goat, lives in a mansion on Fifth Avenue. It turns out that there are no humans in this fantasy universe, but the magic is broken, and readers are left wondering about the relative sizes of the animals and their physical environment. The inclusion of nonnative animal species, including a yak and a kangaroo, may be a nod to cosmopolitanism, but it further weakens the fantasy. Still, this is an enjoyable chapter book for readers not yet ready for the seriousness or more sophisticated humor of Poppy (Orchard, 1995) and its sequels. —Sue Giffard.
Publisher's Weekly (Starred Review):
With Newbery Medalist Avi (Crispin: The Cross of Lead) at the helm of an over-the-top romp set in 1900 New York City, "you got yourself a story busting to trot itself up Broadway like a tap-dancing centipede" (in the words of the omniscient narrator). The tale finds downtowner Big Daddy Duds, a baseball-loving jewel thief of a rat (the kind with whiskers and a tail), deciding it's time to move up in the world ("I like this here Central Park.... I like the green. Reminds me of money"). He and his gang soon take over, displacing the residents. Meanwhile Duds's independent-minded daughter Maud moves out ("It's time I strung my own beads") and falls in love with the squirrel Oscar Westerwit, mayor of Central Park and shortstop for the Central Park Green Sox. With traitors in both camps, double-crosses and plenty of intrigue, the action hurtles toward a turf war, but out-ratted and out-gunned, Oscar's rebellion is short-lived. It's up to Maud to propose a solution-a showdown game between the Green Sox and the Downtown Duds for possession of the park ("Anybody makes an error, I'll shoot him," Duds tells his team). The tough-talking prose would do any old gangster movie proud (Dud's players are "as nervous as a dime standing on edge"). If only James Cagney were available for the audio. Final artwork not seen by PW.