The Misadventures of Sweetie Pie

Book review by
Darienne Stewart, Common Sense Media
The Misadventures of Sweetie Pie Book Poster Image
Dark, unsettling story of pet endangered by children.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Grim lesson on the perils of neglecting a pet, and a stern message that animals are not playthings.


Positive Messages

A Scared Straight approach to pet care: Neglectful care can lead to poor health and worse. Animals need engagement to be happy. 


Positive Role Models & Representations

Several children are excited about having Sweetie Pie as a pet … at first. A boy who loses Sweetie Pie feels guilty, but is more concerned about getting in trouble than in the hamster's fate.


Violence & Scariness

Close-up imagery of dog snapping at hamster, an uncontrolled trip in a rolling toy, Sweetie Pie deeply buried in snow and growing still, implication that the hamster may have died.



What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Misadventures of Sweetie Pie by beloved author-illustrator Chris Van Allsburg (The Polar Express, Jumanji) is a grim book about a hamster who's poorly cared for and nearly killed by careless children. Not a single person treats Sweetie Pie with more than fleeting kindness or consideration. Sweetie Pie is a surly character, even before he gets to know how unpleasant humans can be. An image of the hamster nearly buried by snow and another illustration of a snarling dog terrifying him may upset young children. Adults should look through this book carefully before sharing it with children. 


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What's the story?

The hamster who would soon be known as Sweetie Pie has watched all his friends leave the pet store, but he's resisted. When he's finally taken to a new home, he's pampered at first. But soon his young owner loses interest, and he's passed on to a boy whose dog terrorizes the tiny pet. Before long, Sweetie Pie is handed off to a girl with a nasty expression who sends him on a crazy trip in a hamster ball and then abandons him. After getting assaulted by a mom with a broom, Sweetie Pie becomes a classroom pet, watching the squirrels playing freely outside. A student who's supposed to bring Sweetie Pie home over school break leaves the hamster outside in the snow, and it looks like the end for Sweetie Pie … or maybe a new beginning.


Is it any good?

THE MISADVENTURES OF SWEETIE PIE is well-intentioned but misses the mark. Author-illustrator Chris Van Allsburg speaks up on behalf of creatures who can't speak for themselves: The story, he notes, is inspired by two hamsters who "met with unfortunate ends" in his daughters' care. But the book has nothing nice to say about pet owners, or even the idea of keeping an animal as a pet. It's a heavy-handed lesson more likely to distress children than inspire them to be loving, attentive caretakers for animals. The takeaway lesson is that humans are cruel and animals shouldn't be confined and subject to their care.

If you’re looking for a book to encourage your children to be conscientious pet owners, Van Allsburg's heavy-handed lesson may go too far. It's heartbreaking but without any heartwarming touches. Young readers will be happy to see Sweetie Pie free in the outdoors, but they're likely to feel sad and guilty after closing this book.  

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the responsibility of caring for a pet. What does a pet need to be happy and healthy?


  • Which animals make good pets, and which are better left in the wild?

  • Consider visiting an animal shelter.

Book details

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For kids who love picture books and animal stories

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