Long May They Squeak: A Scurry of Mouse Books

Long May They Squeak: A Scurry of Mouse Books 

Last week, after going on something of a tear about free-choice reading for kids, I opened my new New Yorker and found this fascinating article about the genesis of Stuart Little, and its opposition by venerable librarian Anne Carroll Moore. (If I’d waited, I would’ve been pointed to it as well by several online reflections on the piece.)

Miss Moore, who more or less invented the children’s library and certainly revolutionized children’s literature with her influence, wrote a scathing 14-page letter to author E.B. White in which she objected to the mouse protagonist “staggering out of scale” and to the “mix[ing] up” of the two realms of fantasy and reality. Then she did her best to discourage libraries from purchasing the book. 

But generations of children and parents and librarians disagreed, and of course the rest is history.

In a way, Moore was onto something: that discrepancy of scale, and the enticing mix of fantasy and reality, are two of the elements that make Stuart Little and other books about mice so inviting to young readers. There’s something about the nature of mice that seems to appeal to children’s authors and to children themselves: a small, powerless creature, scurrying through the corners and undersides of the big peoples’ world, quick and cute and often in danger of being stepped on. It’s how kids must feel, sometimes, surrounded by us huge adult lummoxes.

In any case, when I started to work up a list of Famous Mice in Children’s Literature, I had no trouble at all. A few that popped their pointy little heads above the crowd right away, noses and ears twitching:

  • Ralph S. Mouse, hero of The Mouse and the Motorcycle, by Beverly Cleary, and its two sequels. Like Stuart Little, Ralph is a mouse navigating his way through a world of humans. And like Stuart, Ralph has a stylin’ vehicle for his journeys.
  • Geronimo Stilton, the plucky crime-fighting rodent who is steadily taking over the paperback aisles at a bookstore or library near you. Kids at that early chapter-book age take to this guy like…well, like a mouse to cheddar cheese.
  • Babymouse. Or rather, Babymouse! Lover of cupcakes and books! Master of living inside      her own head, because it is so much more interesting and exciting than dull old everyday reality! Cartoon heroine for the ages! Or at least, for about ages 6-9, especially those who like graphic novels. By Jennifer and Matthew Holm. 
  • And my favorite new mice on the literary scene, the simply but elegantly named Mouse and her daughter Mouse Mouse, who brave danger and possible censure to befriend two generations of human girls in Mary and the Mouse, the Mouse and Mary, by Beverly Donofrio, with meticulously      period-detailed illustrations by Barbara McClintock. Unlike the others listed above, this book stands alone: I don’t expect to see any sequels starring a grandchild named Mouse Mouse Mouse. But there’s no need; Mary and the Mouse, the Mouse and Mary has a satisfying completeness all by itself.

And that’s just one whisker of the whole mouse-in-children’s-literature picture. For picture-book mouse fans, there’s also Angelina Ballerina, and Frederick the poet, and Dr. De Soto the dentist, and Horace and his friend Morris (but, mostly, Delores), and Maisy, not to mention the nameless but memorable protagonist of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.

If chapter books are your slice of cheese, a surprising number of mice show up in longer works, too. For starters, there are Mrs. Frisby and Miss Bianca, two dauntless mice whose respective stories were eventually adapted into the popular movies “The Secret of Nimh” and “The Rescuers”; not to mention the warriors of the Redwall saga, the dapper detective Hermux Tantamoq, Poppy the deer mouse, and last (in this list, anyway), but certainly not least, the miniscule, large-eared, valiant Despereaux Tilling. 

And there are more than those, even; many more than I could list here.

Not a bad showing, for a creature only a couple of inches long.

July 24, 2008

 

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Comments

I loved Charlotte's Web and The Trumpet of the Swan, but couldn't get into Stuart Little, even though my grandmother read it aloud to me. I reacted a little bit with the "ick factor" even then, and felt melancholy afterward, much as I did when I read Tuck Everlasting. One bittersweet mouse story that I loved is Rumer Godden's The Mousewife, based on a journal entry by Dorthy Wordsworth.

I loved Charlotte's Web and The Trumpet of the Swan, but couldn't get into Stuart Little, even though my grandmother read it aloud to me. I reacted a little bit with the "ick factor" even then, and felt melancholy afterward, much as I did when I read Tuck Everlasting. One bittersweet mouse story that I loved is Rumer Godden's The Mousewife, based on a journal entry by Dorthy Wordsworth.

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Mary and the mouse is great! I really love that one. :)

I'll look into this books and add them to my list if I like them. Thanks for posting this list!

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