Hamsters & Guinea Pigs in Early Chapter Books

Hamsters & Guinea Pigs in Early Chapter Books

I’m not sure what children’s publishing rule of thumb seems to dictate that hamsters sell Early Chapter Books but when I judged the first round Cybils, there were a surprising amount of hamster themed books in this category. This, of course, let me to search out more Early/Easy Chapter Books with hamsters as characters as well as picture books.

Why do you think Early Chapter Books and hamsters go so well together? Is this publishing gold or a knee-jerk “copy what’s working” strategy to find an escaped hamster? Are hamsters really the Houdinis of rodents or are we short-changing rats, moles, mice and other furry creatures?

My search for hamster books was prompted by this video below. It turns out that hamsters have flexible hips that allow them to take sharp turns easily, even doing a complete U-turn in a tight space. And let’s not discount their ability to stuff food into their cheek pouches. The pouches, which secrete no saliva, extend down to their hips!

Hamster Chapter Books By Theme

Chapter Books: Golden Hamsters That Can Escape At Will

What is interesting about both these middle grade chapter books (ages 9 and up but gentle enough for advanced readers ages 6 and up) is that:

  1. The hamster is a male Golden Hamster
  2. The hamster can surreptitiously open his cage door for a walkabout
  3. The hamster has taught himself to read and write (in English)
  4. All three books are written the first person by way of the Golden Hamster

Now, it’s unclear to me how Freddy is unable to use a pencil and thus can only write using the ease of a computer keyboard — typewriter action being to difficult for his size, but Humphrey can scribble away in a tiny notebook using a pencil. Call that poetic license I guess but isn’t it interesting that both these series have a similarly skilled rodent and assume that this level of expertise is best left to those who can read chapter books? (Please excuse my sarcasm).

Trouble According to Humphrey series by Betty G. Birney

Birney’s The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs is one of my all time favorite chapter books so I was delighted to find her hamster series. Humphrey is a Golden Hamster who lives in a classroom along with a frog named Og. He’s very concerned about his human student friends and trouble begins when he’s caught outside his cage. No one realizes he’s figured out how to unlock his cage and he’s riddled with guilt when one of his favorite students, Miranda, takes the fall. It’s easy to get caught up in the drama of Room 26 kids and I enjoyed diverse backgrounds of the kids in the class as they take turns taking Humphrey home for the weekend.

All in all, if you wanted just one book recommendations to go along with the Golden Hamster video, I’d chose this one. [chapter book, ages 8 and up]

I, Freddy : book one in the golden hamster saga series by Dietlof Reiche

You can call this an autobiography of Freddy’s quest to live in the Promised Land of Assyria (a.k.a. a decent foster home). He’s a Golden Hamster who learns how to read and write but needs the gentle touch of a computer keyboard to compose. Finding the right home has its challenges and Freddy has to negotiate a hostile human mom, a tomcat and singing guinea pigs to figure out his perfect home base. [chapter book, ages 8 and up]

I, Houdini : the autobiography of a self-educated hamster by Lynne Reid

Houdini is another Golden Hamster that has figured out how to escape at will, though he can not read or write like the other two above. Still, Houdini is self-educated focusing on escape and survival techniques. Of the three books, this chapter book is written in a more old-fashioned style that might be less appealing to kids these days but showcases a Golden Hamster’s perspective that feels authentic rather than cheeky anthropomorphic. [chapter book, ages 9 and up]

Early Chapter Books: Hamster Escapes

Lulu and the Hamster in the Night by Hilary McKay
This is exactly the kind of Easy Chapter book that I wish there were more of. Lulu and Mellie just happen to be girls of color but that’s not the point. Their adventure as rescue pet adopters is perfectly pitched. The girls  stay at their grandmother’s house, but sneak in their hamster that they are watching during their weekend stay. When the hamster gets loose, it’s not an easy fix. [early chapter book, ages 6 and up]

Song Lee and the Hamster Hunt by Suzy Kline

Song Lee brings her pet hamster, Yi, to school and Sidney inadvertently lets it escape. Her classmates all try to find Yi and a poster campaign is executed. After a week of searching, the school custodian finds Yi and returns him to his cage unharmed.

Suzy Kline’s Horrible Harry series branches off with Song Lee books as well. This character was inspired by a child that she taught. Her books are gentle adventures that kids in first, second, or third grade can relate to. In Song Lee and the Hamster Hunt, Kline doesn’t go for the easy fix — the hamster goes missing for an entire week. This allows readers to see the range of emotions that different classmates feel, and creates drama and relief when Yi finally gets returned unharmed. [early chapter book, ages 6 and up]

Katie Woo Rules the School by Fran Manushkin, illustrated by Tammie Lyon

Katie Woo’s class gets a new class pet and she names him Binky. She gets to take Binky home for the weekend too! When she plays with Binky one last time before going to school, she doesn’t shut his cage door when she goes to use the bathroom. Binky is gone! Did he go out the window? When she goes to school distraught, she finds him safe in her backpack.

PickyKidPix is a big fan of Katie Woo and friends, though she discovered this series in 5th grade and it was a little too easy for her. But then again, that might have been the charm of the series for her! Katie Woo reminds me a little of my daughter, a little bit spunky and a little bit sweet. [early chapter book, ages 6 and up]

Early Chapter Book: Animal Shelter Drama

Shelter Pet Squad: Jellybean by Cynthia Lord

Cynthia Lord’s diversity cast of characters in the Shelter Pet Squad includes mixed ages. The youngest, Suzannah, is just 7 and a half and in 2nd grade. Her young age comes into play in the book as she tries to find her place with the older kids at the Shelter Pet Squad. A girl her age brings a guinea pig named Jelly Bean and Suzannah promises to find it the perfect home. But what if no one wants an abandoned guinea pig? With the help of the other Shelter Pet Squad members, Suzannah helps the guinnea pig find a perfect home. [early chapter book, ages 6 and up]

Early Chapter Book: Turning Into a Hamster

Hamster Magic by Lynne Jonell

If you like the Half Magic series, there are similar elements in this Magical Mix-Ups series. When Celia and her siblings find a hamster and discovers it can talk, they end up meeting The Great Hamster who grants them a wish. Celia, the youngest, is tired of being the smallest. Her wish isn’t clear enough and she ends up as a very large hamster. It’s going to take a lot of magic (and dog biscuits) to turn her back to human!

My kids never read this series but it’s a nice easy chapter book series for kids who want a touch of fantasy in their realistic fiction. For some reason, my kids liked fairly predictable mysteries, magic tree houses and fairies at this age. [early chapter book, ages 6 and up]

Early Chapter Book: Hamster Tragedies

The Great Hamster Massacre by Katie Davies and Hannah Shaw

If you want a morbidly hilarious early chapter book about caring for hamsters that has gone terribly awry, then this is the book for you! It’s not that Anna and her little brother Tom are bad at taking care of their pet hamsters. These hamsters, after all, are the result of an endless amount of scheming and pleading. A death in the family prompts their parents into relenting their “no pet” policy despite their mother’s very bad luck with hamsters in the past. Still, it seems their family is cursed. Anna writes up what occurs in this book for her school paper. Her mother only laments that she doesn’t make up a more cheerful scenario of what she did this past summer. [early chapter book for those who can stomach gore, ages 8 and up]

Hamster Picture Books

Hot Rod Hamster series by Cynthia Lord, illustrated by Derek Anderson

Cynthia Lord’s rollicking rhyming picture book about a race car driving hamster is irresistible from start to finish. Building the perfect race car for a rodent isn’t easy, but the reader gets to see the choices (and maybe construct a mental race car alongside). When the flag goes down, will the small hamster be able to beat the rougher, tougher, and much larger opponents? [picture book, ages 2 and up]

Hot Rod Hamster and the Awesome ATV Adventure! by Cynthia Lord

As an easy reader, Hot Rod Hamster is back with an ATV adventure. I personally prefer the original picture book, but fans of Hot Rod Hamster who are learning to read independently might enjoy this new format that they can read to themselves. [easy reader, ages 6 and up]

Tiny Hamster Is a Giant Monster by  Joel Jensen, Joseph Matsushima, and Amy Matsushima

This picture book evolved out of many whimsical YouTube videos that went viral created by these authors. A mysterious green substance turns a hamster into a giant creature who wreaks havoc on a city, Godzilla style The whimsy is that you can see how the creators made a fake edible city for the hamster to play in while wearing a Godzilla-like costume. It’s easy to see how the elaborate sets and cute hamster would make for a viral video series! I give this picture book high marks for originality and humor! Everyone is in on this joke! [picture book, ages 4 and up]

To examine any book more closely at Amazon, please click on image of book.

Hamsters & Guinea Pigs in Early Chapter Books

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By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom

12 Comments

  1. Have fond memories of many of these furry creatures inhabiting my home as children’s pets, especially guinea pigs.

  2. I had hamsters as pets growing up & loved them, Mia! I am a fan of rats–they’re definitely short-changed for sure! My daughter has had pet rats, and I’ve loved them–they’re such sweet and affectionate creatures. The second Penny & Jelly book features a pet rat :), and I’ve written a NF PB on rats called Rat-tastic that I hope will some day be acquired :).

    Victoria Jamieson (author or Roller Girl) has a new graphic novel out called The Great Pet Escape that features hamsters. I have it out from the library, but haven’t yet read it.

  3. I got my great granddaughter hooked on Cynthia Lord’s Pet Squad series. Great animal books. Will have to check out the others. She love hamsters.
    Patricia Tilton recently posted…Love for Logan – Autism Awareness MonthMy Profile

  4. What a great list! We can’t get enough of Humphrey at our house.

  5. What a great list! I had only known about Hot Rod Hamster and Humphrey (whom we just love!)… we’ll have to check the rest of these out. Something tells me my middle son is going to love hamster magic; even if an early chapter book is a bit below his reading level I know he’ll love it. He loves anything with animals and magic! Thanks for the list!
    Mother of 3 recently posted…Using Picture Books In Middle SchoolMy Profile

  6. I did not realize there were so many books about hamsters! Thanks for this list.

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