“The Mouse and His Child” by Russell Hoban

A few times, I’ve picked a longer, less-illustrated book to read to 5yo Guppy and 7yo Drake at bedtime. Last year, I found a new copy of The Mouse and His Child written by Russell Hoban and illustrated by Caldecott artist David Small in a re-issued edition. I remembered reading it as a girl, and that I liked it, but nothing beyond that.

A wind-up mouse and child are displayed in a toy store at Christmastime.

As the tramp watched, the saleslady opened a box and took out two toy mice, a large one and a small one, who stood upright with outstretched arms and joined hands. They wore blue velveteen trousers and patent leather shoes, and they had glass-bead eyes, white thread whiskers, and black rubber tails. When the saleslady wound the key in the mouse father’s back he danced in a circle, swinging his little son up off the counter and down again while the children laughed and reached out to touch them. Around and around they danced gravely, and more and more slowly as the spring unwound, until the mouse father came to a stop holding the child high in his upraised arms. (2, 3)

They are purchased and taken out into the world, where many strange, wondrous, sad and happy things befall them. This is an often dark book that wanders sometimes in parts that weren’t of interested to me or the boys; visits with a muskrat and a snapping turtle went on too long for us. Yet the story moves along as the two windups are pursued by the villain Manny Rat. Often when I’d stop reading, 5yo Guppy would be able to say what had happened, or what he thought was going to happen. I figured if he was keeping up, I’d keep going. Both he and Drake said they wanted to hear the story, and in spite of its darkness and sad parts, both boys always said they wanted me to continue reading. They were much more engaged on pages with the lovely black and white illustrations.

I was reminded very much of Kate DiCamillo’s The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. Those who find that book too dark and scary, either for themselves or children, would likely not enjoy this book. Conversely, if you liked the complex, mythical tale of Edward, then I think you’ll appreciate this. This is an especially good tale of a devoted father and created families.

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