I must admit, my husband doesn’t quite understand what it is about this hamster that makes me so happy. Perhaps it is that Hamster says what we all think sometimes – or maybe it is that Hamster is teaching us that we all need to keep the myth of our greatness alive to some extent, to enjoy life to its full. Hamster often makes a fool of himself, but never lets that get in the way of a good story, which he records in his diary every night. The other characters – especially Snail and Hedgehog, oh and Mole, are so beautifully endearing that they make you smile widely every time you read this book.
This, as the title suggests, is a book about the travels of Hamster, and his group of friends. Hamster is keen to visit his relatives, the hamsters on the moon. He decides that to achieve this, he must make a spaceship; well, he must get somebody to do it for him, at any rate. This provides one of the many gasps and laughs as you read the little stories scattered in chapters through this book.
Meanwhile, Bear is invited by his cousins, the Polar Bears, to visit him on an ice floe. He invites all his friends to accompany him on the long journey to the North Pole. Hamster is not keen, preferring to visit the moon, but each of the animals makes their preparation, nervously anticipating the differences of this new world. Mole is writing a letter to his loved one, with the help of Snail and his heart-shaped glasses. Hamster is writing in his diary all about his trip to the moon, and Hedgehog is deciding how to dress.
The image of them setting off on their adventure is priceless, with Mole striding out front with Snail on his head, Hedgehog, then Squirrel, then Bear with his travelling bag, Rabbit with her Knapsack, Ant with her bags, then, way at the back with a grumpy expression, comes Hamster with a huge suitcase. Because even though he wanted to be Mr Cool, travelling in space instead (he managed to fit in a quick trip first), he still needs his friends. And he is still struck by the beauty of snow – and its potential as a snack.
The animals meet cousin Polar Bear, Emperor Penguins, and Snail is invited to meet Whale, in the ocean. The exchange between Snail and Whale, when they meet, is wonderful – a brilliant example of how home means different things to different creatures:
Snail: ‘Oh, there you are, Whale! I received your invitation but I wasn’t exactly sure how to find your house.’
Whale: ‘Well it’s right here, and down below, and further afield. The whole ocean is my home.’
Snail: ‘Oh, it’s vast!!
Whale: True, true – and you’ve only seen the outside. And you , Snail? What’s your house like?
Snail: ‘Oh, that’s easy. It’s right here on my back! I never leave it!’
Snail is probably the most insightful of all of the animals in the group of friends; you get the sense that it is he who is greasing the wheels for everybody else to have a good time. Rabbit is the overlooked one, while you get the sense that Squirrel gets fed up more easily than the others with Hamster’s selfish antics. The way they interact as a friend group is brilliant.
Travels of an Extraordinary Hamster is a lovely wee package, with perfectly-pitched allegory, featuring some beautiful friendships. It would suit children aged 6 and over, who are old enough not to take the tales in the book too literally.
Reviewed by Sarah Forster
Travels of an Extraordinary Hamster
by Astrid Desbordes & Pauline Martin
Translated by Linda Burgess
Published by Gecko Press