Book Review of Emmy and the Rats in the Belfry by Lynne Jonell

What My Kids Read Reviews Emmy and the Rats in the Belfry by Lynne Jonell This is the third book in a series. You can read my reviews of Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat here and Emmy and the Home for Troubled Girls here. I really enjoyed the first book, but this second and third book were not as enjoyable.

My Mom-Meter gives this particular book an overall safety rating of 2 (Moderately Safe) for ages 8 and up.

Here is my plot summary for Emmy and the Rats in the Belfry:

Once again, Miss Barmy and Cheswick are plotting their revenge on Emmy. They are still rats, and they mess up her room every time she cleans it, causing Emmy’s parents to question Emmy’s trustworthiness and responsibility. Professor Capybara has discovered a way to capture the essence of Cecilia’s kisses (which reverse Raston’s shrinking bites), and Miss Barmy soon finds out his secret. Miss Barmy then uses Cheswick to help her trick Emmy into taking Raston and Cecilia to her great aunts’ house in Schenectady. Miss Barmy then kidnaps Sissy (Cecilia) and forces her to kiss thousands of glue patches in order to reverse Miss Barmy’s condition. In the meantime, one of the girls rescued in the last book, Ana, has finally been claimed by distant relatives, but she suspects they are only interested in keeping her for the money the government will give them. She turns into a rat at the train station, and ends up staying with Emmy and her elderly aunts in Schenectady. Emmy’s aunts are getting old, and need help to keep the house clean. Aunt Melly does all the work,and Aunt Gussy is getting close to dying because of how old she is, but she refuses to go to a hospital. Emmy agrees to keep Aunt Gussy’s condition a secret as long as Aunt Melly keeps Ana a secret from the police (who are looking for her). Emmy gets Joe to come stay with her aunts and help take care of the house. Ratty (Raston) continues to look for Sissy and their long-lost mother, Ratmom, and he discovers Ratmom at a bar. Ratmom (Della) has the unusual ability to make anything younger with a tear from her eye. Emmy eventually uses Della to help her aunts become younger. The experiment goes too far, though, and the aunts end up as 6 years olds without a care in the world. Della disappears, and, once Della’s tears wear off the aunts, Ratty turns the aunts into rats to take them to Rodent City to find Della and save Aunt Gussy from dying. Emmy and Joe, with the help of some bats, rescue Sissy, but are then captured themselves and everyone is almost shipped off to France with Miss Barmy for the rest of their lives. Emmy does some quick thinking and saves the day. Emmy’s dad catches Cheswick, and mistakenly thinks that Cheswick had kidnapped Ana. While he is away, Miss Barmy and Cheswick are turned to rats again, and are taken to Rodent City to be tried and put in jail. Ana is adopted by Emmy’s aunts, who promise to send her to medical school, which was her dream. Once again, Emmy realizes that she should have just told her parents the truth at the beginning of it all, but she still isn’t sure that everything would have turned out for the best.

Here are potential moral issues in Emmy and the Rats in the Belfry that parents might wish to talk with their kids about:

Anthropomorphism/Talking Animals:

  • There are talking animals in this series. Only people who have been bitten by a certain type of rat can hear what the animals are saying.


  • There are powders and potions that the Professor discovers, like the “Powder of Disbelief” that makes someone believe anything, but they are all explained as scientific, not magical.
  • There is a bar for rodents called “The Surly Rat.” They serve ginger beer, root beer, and pear cider. Later one, Joe decides they should put the ginger ale away.
  • The bouncers at “The Surly Rat” say “Even the chipmunks are dancing on the tables.” “I haven’t seen the ‘munk yet who could hold his ginger beer.”
  • They say that Ratmom “Put away 5 bottlecaps full in one night.”
  • Ratmom is found drunk, singing in a riverfront bar.
  • Ratmom says “So I take a little drink now and then. I’ve been through a lot of heartache.”
  • Joe says Ratmom is “always weepy when she’s guzzling.”
  • Miss Barmy calls Ratmom a “sleazy drunk.”


  •  Miss Barmy sends a “poison-pen letter.”

Gross Behavior:

  • “Rear” and “rump” are both mentioned once.
  • Ratty tells Ana to ” Say it, don’t spray it.”
  • There are several references to “bat poop” and “guano.”
  • Sissy, when she is turned into a baby rat, spits up or “burped” on Ratty twice.


  •  Miss Barmy tells Cheswick “Don’t be such a weenie.”
  • “Shut up” is said several times by different people.
  • Ratty calls Thomas”Featherbrain.”
  • Someone says “Oh my gosh.”
  • Someone says “fatheaded,” meaning stupid.
  • Raston calls his mom “too fat.”
  • “Stupid” and “dumb” are used several times.


  • There are powders and potions that the Professor discovers, like the “Powder of Disbelief” that makes someone believe anything, but they are all explained as scientific, not magical.
  • Of course, a few of the rats have special powers (shrinking, reversing the shrinking, making something young, etc.), but they are also explained as scientific.
  • Ratmom’s tears make things young.
  • Monster is used twice to describe someone.


  • Cheswick is in love with Miss Barmy, and he calls her nicknames throughout the book like “my cupcake,” “precious pudding cup,” “cuddle dumpling,” etc.
  • Miss Barmy uses Cheswick’s affections to manipulate him. She has no interest in anyone but herself.
  • Cheswick wants to marry Miss Barmy and have a litter of 6.
  • Cheswick suggests that Miss Barmy wears Barbie’s bikini.
  • “Cheswick felt all soft and saggy with love. Alone with Jane…in Schenectady! What could possibly be more romantic?”
  • Manilo the bat flirts with Sissy throughout the book, telling her how beautiful she is.
  • Miss Barmy kisses Cheswick on his ear, and he thinks “it had been wonderful.” When they are in a box together, she stays far away from hims and “said she had a headache.”
  • Cheswick observes the “romantic lighting.”
  • Ratty “wasn’t interested in getting all mushy with girl rats yet.”


  • Joe’s little brother, Thomas, finds a dead bird and he is very sad about it. He then smells the “Powder of Disbelief,” and then believes it is just sleeping.
  • The bats say “Bombs away!” when they drop guano on Miss Barmy.

Potential Discussion Points:

  • Ana runs away because she isn’t wanted. She would rather be a rat than live with her distant relatives. Potential Discussion Point: What would you do if you were Ana? What would you do if you were Ana’s friend? Do you think that there are people who only want children so they can get money?
  • Aunt Gussy doesn’t want to go to the hospital or a nursing home, so Aunt Melly hides the fact that Aunt Gussy is sick. Potential Discussion Point: You might want to talk about nursing homes and what happens to people when they grow old. You might also want to talk about what your family plans to do when parents and grandparents grow old.
  • Emmy tries Della’s tears on her Aunt Gussy without her permission and turns her and Aunt Melly into 6 year olds. Potential Discussion Point: You might want to talk to your kids about the ethics of experimenting on others.
  • The book calls the aunts “youthenized” when they turn young.
  • Emmy “knew she should have tried to explain to her parents about the rodents. She could have shown them…and they would have had to believe her…And what would have happened to Sissy and Ratty and Ratmom if the world found out there were rats who could shrink people and make them grow – not to mention a rat whose tears could make someone young again?” Potential Discussion Point: Emmy assumes that her parents could not keep a secret or figure out a better solution than she did.
  • Cheswick says he is sorry for what he did. Potential Discussion Point: Should he have been punished for kidnapping Ana, even though he didn’t do it, since he wouldn’t be punished for the terrible things that he did do? Was it right to turn him into a rat?

From a kid’s perspective: “I think kids 8+ who like rodents and mysterious people will like Emmy and the Rats in the Belfry. I give it 3 and a half stars out of 5 stars.”

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So what do you think?

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