Hamsters Make Terrible Roommates by Cheryl B. Klein and Abhi Alwar

Hello, Cheryl B. Klein! Hello, Abhi Alwar! Welcome to Watch. Connect. Read.! Thank you for stopping by to celebrate Hamsters Make Terrible Roommates! It is hilarious and fun to read aloud. Cheryl, imagine you’re booktalking it to 200 teacher-librarians. What do you tell them about the book?

Cheryl B. Klein: First of all, hello, teacher-librarians! As an editor and a writer, I’m so, so grateful for all the important work you do—shaping the readers (and writers, and thinkers, and citizens) of the next generation. Thank you.

Now, I want you to close your eyes and picture the most talkative kid you know. The one who wants to tell you everything, who needs to share their observations, who just cannot be quiet for five minutes straight.

Even more than that, this kid says the same things over, and over, and over, and over.

Now imagine you have to live in a small room with this kid.

Every day.


For life.

You’ve just gotten a glimpse of Henry’s situation in HAMSTERS MAKE TERRIBLE ROOMMATES, where his roommate — the exuberant Marvin — has never met an emotion he didn’t express or an idea he didn’t want to share. Introverted Henry prides himself on being nice, which to him means not inflicting his every thought on Marvin. But all hamsters have their breaking points, and when Henry reaches his, the result will surprise the reader, Marvin — and even Henry himself.

This story was loosely inspired by a deal I made with my college roommate, where we were each allowed to ignore the other’s attempts at conversation if we were reading something great. I hope HAMSTERS MAKE TERRIBLE ROOMMATES can help introverts and extroverts understand each other a little better, and I think it will make both groups laugh.

Thank you for that wonderful booktalk! 

Abhi, what materials did you use to make the art?

Abhi Alwar: I made concept sketches with paper and pencil, but the final art is all digital— I used my iPad Pro, an iPad pencil, and a drawing app called “Procreate”. Their digital brushes are *amazing*.

Yay! Thank you!

Cheryl, please finish the following sentence starters.

Abhi Alwar’s illustrations
 are brilliant. The best definition of poetry I’ve ever read is that “Poetry is the simultaneous compression of language and expansion of meaning,” and I often feel you can judge illustrations by a similar metric—the simultaneous compression of line and creation of emotion, perhaps. A great illustrator can create BIG FEELINGS using very few marks, and you can trace Henry’s entire journey in this book just by following his eyebrows. (Really! It’s true!) And the whole book is stuffed with delightful, character-ful details like those eyebrows, or the sunflower seeds, or the hatch marks on the cage wall…. I feel so lucky to be part of Abhi’s first book.

Picture books are a wonder of an art form. Creating them is like playing three-dimensional chess, where you’re trying to balance the forward motion of the story with the emotional development of the characters alongside the artistic and informational needs of each spread. They have to read well aloud; they have to be beautiful to look at; and ideally they speak to a child’s emotions or experiences while still giving pleasure to adults. But when a picture book pulls off all of that—whew! You can read it every night for a year and still find new things in it.

Abhi, please finish the following sentence starters.

Henry and Marvin are the cutest characters I’ve yet to draw! Cheryl’s characterization of this introvert/extrovert pair was so good, and I wanted to be able to get the right visual feel for them too.

When it comes down to it, drawing a hamster in my style is just a rounded box with ears, little limbs, and a tail. Some of the first iterations of their character designs, look so different size-wise too, but I wanted them to seem different enough, while still potentially passing as the same hamster species with different coat colorings. After sketching out some made-up scenes of them interacting/reacting to each other, I realized I already had a sense of what I wanted to emphasize for each of their designs— Henry’s chunky eyebrows, and Marvin’s gi-normous mouth. And a *whole lot* of facial expression!

Hamsters Make Terrible Roommates’ endpapers were so fun to make! I drew the two of them interacting in little vignettes inside this maze of colorful tubes, but the way they interact in the front endpapers are quite different from the back endpapers…!

Thank you, Cheryl and Abhi! 

Cheryl Klein is the author many picture books, including Wings, illustrated by Tomie DePaola, and the adult nonfiction book The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults, which received two starred reviews. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Abhi Alwar is an illustrator and designer from Chicago who currently lives in NYC and works in children's publishing. This is her debut picture book.

Look for Hamsters Make Terrible Roommates on August 31, 2021. 

Two hamster roommates with wildly different personalities crammed in one cage—what could go wrong in this hilarious story about introverts versus extroverts?

It’s been two hundred and five days since Henry has had peace. That’s because it’s been two hundred and five days since Marvin has come to live with him. Marvin, who loves to talk in the tunnels, talk while they’re eating, talk while they’re running. Marvin, who drives Henry up the cage walls. But when Henry finally loses his cool and gets exactly what he wanted, both hamsters have to figure out a way to live together and work through their communication mishaps.


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