Guinea Pig, Pet Shop Private Eye, Vol. 1: Hamster and Cheese
written by Colleen A.F. Venable
illustrated by Stephanie Yue
Kids love a book filled with mistakes—silly, obvious mistakes that they can point out themselves. It leaves them giggling every time.
Hamster and Cheese is that book.
The setting is a wacky pet shop with a not-too-bright owner who has mislabeled all the animals: The hamster thinks he is a koala, the snake is in a cage labeled “llama,” and so on. The guinea pig has taken matters into his own hands by spelling out his proper name in Scrabble tiles, but when the final “g” falls off his name, rendering it “GUINEA PI,” an enterprising koala—er, hamster—hires him as a private investigator.
Hamisher the hamster’s problem is that he has been unjustly accused of theft: Every day, the store owner puts his sandwich in front of the hamsters’ cage, and every day, the sandwich disappears. Now the owner is threatening to make the hamsters disappear if it happens again.
Unfortunately, the other animals aren’t much help—the rabbits are too busy primping, the turtle is reliving his glory days in minor-league baseball, and the fish are incredibly dumb. Incredibly, hilariously dumb. So dumb that they mistake the sandwich for the sandwich thief, and they keep getting distracted by the other fish that mimic their actions (who are actually their reflections). The animals squabble among themselves, but when it looks like a little boy may buy one of the rabbits, they work together, squirting water from across the room to make him think the rabbit peed on him. (This is one of a few mild potty jokes in the book.)
Stephanie Yue’s art really brings the story to life, although her choice of relatively muted colors helps keep it from being too hyper. Like Venable, she is able to imbue each character with a strong personality: the grumpy guinea pig, Lady Sasspants, the super-cute hamsters, the laconic corn snake, and the dim-bulbed fish.
This is not one of those books where the solution to the mystery is lying out in the open the whole time; on the contrary, the culprit doesn’t appear until late in the story, and there are only a few clues, although there is a definite “Aha!” moment. The fun comes not from solving the puzzle but from watching the animals try to figure it out (or refuse to get involved).
Venable’s script meanders through the story in a leisurely way, with plenty of false starts and digressions. That’s fine, because this is a book you read less for the plot than for the characters, and the characters are very funny indeed.