“A lot happens in a school when the teachers aren’t looking.”
When Malcolm (a smaller than average rat) arrives as the fifth grade pet at McKenna School, he revels in the attention, the Pop-Tart crumbs, and his new Comf-E-Cube. He also meets the Midnight Academy, a secret society of classroom pets that keeps the nutters (kids) out of trouble. After all, everybody knows, “a lot happens in a school when the teachers aren’t looking.”
There’s just one problem. Have you heard? Rats have a terrible reputation! So when the Academy assumes that Malcolm is a mouse, he doesn’t exactly speak up. Then the Academy’s leader, a glasses-wearing iguana named Aggy, disappears and the Academy smells a rat . . . a dirty rat fink, to be specific. Now Malcolm must use all of his ratty persistence to prove his innocence, get Aggy back under her heat lamp—and to find out if it’s possible to be a critter of valor and merit, even if you’re a rat.
Read the First Chapter
It began with a rat. There was also a glasses-wearing elderly iguana, a grumpy fish who could spell, a ghost in the clock tower, a secret message in the library, and a twisted evil that lived on the fourth floor of our school. But those’ll all come later. First, there was a rat: Malcolm. (Keep reading…)
Awards and Honors
First-time author W.H. Beck combines many beloved themes—intelligent animals, secret clubs, middle school melodrama—into a fine-tuned noir mystery….ultimately a story about identity and inclusion, but kids will get that message along with a spoonful of adventure, a smart whodunit and several laughs. This one’s a winner.”
–BookPage (link to full review)
…a breathless, exciting tale of adventure, danger, betrayal, twists and surprises. Beck unfolds the events in the form of an anonymous note to teacher Mr. Binney detailing Malcolm’s journey, with clever and sometimes hilarious asides in the form of footnotes. Meditations on the nature of power and friendship are subtly and seamlessly woven within the plot…A rip-roaring tale; even rodent haters will have to like Malcolm.”
–Kirkus (link to full review)
“Escapades, humor, and romance weave together in this madcap elementary school adventure from first-time author Beck…A first-rate debut.”
–Publishers Weekly (link to full review)
“This creature-feature leavens spookiness with healthy doses of whimsy.”
–Booklist (link to full review)
“…the perfect elementary read-aloud. Highly recommended.”
–Library Media Connection
“Malcolm is indeed a rat of valor and merit. So is his story.”
–Richard Peck, Newbery Medalist
“Malcolm at Midnight has all the valor and adventure of The Tale of Despereaux with the wit and antics of Frindle…three cheers for the fresh and funny Malcolm!”
–Kathryn Erskine, National Book Award winner
Why I Wrote THIS Story
Even though I’ve never had a rat as a pet, there’s a lot of me in this book. I often say that Malcolm began as a bedtime story for my then-first grader. But the truth is, I used him as a story “guinea pig” (pun intended!). I tested my ideas out on him to see what made him laugh or ask what happened next, then, while he slept, I’d head down to my laptop and write them down.
Because my kids are growing up in my own hometown, I also snuck in a few things that only we would know about. The city where it’s set is called “Clearwater,” which is the English translation of our town, Eau Claire. Our local pet store became the Pet Emporium. And McKenna School is based on our current school district administration building, which we would drive by on our way to the public library every week. (Before it was the administration building, it was a junior high school. I attended seventh grade summer band there before our new school was built; I’ll never forget walking up four flights of crumbling stairs to the dusty, cluttered top floor…sound familiar?)
But the truth is, Malcolm really became a book due to a grant from the SCBWI. I had talked myself into abandoning Malcolm (who would want a story about a talking rat, written in the 2nd person, with FOOTNOTES??)–when it won a work-in-progress runner-up grant from SCBWI. It was just the boost of confidence I needed to pull out the story and finally finish it.