Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Reading Mieces to Pieces

Sunrise was at 6:55, sunset will be at 7:34. Cold, wet, gray windy. It was spring once. At least there's no snow, yet.

tttttttttttttttttttttttttddddddddddddddddrrrrrrrrrr : cat typing.

She sits as close as she can to the edge of my keyboard, right where the heat vent is, her front paws just touching the edge. Every so often she hunches closer and ends up on the keyboard. She's gone, now, which is the only reason I can type. She swipes at my fingers so I have to type with a pen to keep from having her claws catching my skin. Poor baby, she is so cold, getting old, she needs a blanket and a water bottle.98888888 (oops, sorry, she came back.)

Enough about cats! The mice are coming!

One of the best things about books is how serendipitous the reading can be.

My book group (the one that met at All for Kids) used to read a couple of books at a time when they were short ones. We were always surprised at how often we found similarities between them, sometimes it was only character names, other times it could be an entire theme that connected them. We weren't very scientific about choosing books, either. We pretty much looked around the store, found titles we had enough copies of, and if people thought it sounded good, we'd read it. It was kind of cool how that worked, something out there must have guided our choices. We always got a lot more out of both when it happened.

Well, I had a copy of Young Fredle, by Cynthia Voigt in my bag, something I was reading for a book awards committee I'm on. Pretty much reading it when I walked to appointments or while waiting in lines. It's a good size for hauling around; you can get a lot read when they're small like that.

I had it with me when I went to lunch at a friend's house (hi, Sue!) and she brought up her favorite book of the year by Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright, The Cheshire Cheese Cat. Something I'd been wanting to read because it's about Charles Dickens AND has Barry Moser's artwork, and is on the same awards list. She was actually able to find it and hand it to me IN SECONDS. Do you know how hard that is?

I headed home; it was a breezy, blue day, the chair was warming up in the window, and I settled in to give CCC a little read along, priming the pump for another book about mice. I looked up while figuring out how to get the cat to come and keep me warm and saw Richard Peck's Secrets at Sea in a little stack of books "to be read when there's time", the edge askew in the stack, begging me to pick it up and move it to the top. And since there's time, right now, it was moved to a brand new, sweet little stack of books about mice.

I love how the universe works.

Cynthia Voigt's Young Fredle is the story of a curious, adventurous house mouse, exiled from his warm home between the wall studs when he eats something and gets sick. He is shoved out of his nest and left to survive on his own in a house with a cat, two dogs, and a child. When the child's mother sees him, she scoops him up and puts him somewhere else, kindly, carefully, but somewhere completely alien to him. His adventures in this new world begin when he meets a gray meadow mouse, a cautious thing, who is willing to share most of what he knows with Fredle.

The thing I was most struck by is the mythology Ms. Voigt invents for Fredle and the mice folk. The primary rule of mice is to Stay Safe, but when they don't, when they could endanger the others, they are thrown out of the nest and are considered went. When a mouse is eaten by something or they don't come back after that loud SNAP, they are went. Once Fredle was exiled, his family cast him from their memories.

House mice don't know what the twinkling lights high above are, they don't have a language for grass or dew, and Fredle's connection to this brand new world could have been a fragile one except for the new friend who keeps him safe in it. Lots of adventure with raccoons and other scary things. (Ages 8 and up. Knopf. $16.99. Available now.)

The Cheshire Cheese Cat is a wonderful book featuring Charles Dickens and a few other historical personages. Skilley is an alley cat with an awful secret and he really wants out of the alley life. He blows into Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, a public house that features the best cheese in the country and rapidly makes himself indispensable to the cook, catching the mice that are such a problem in her kitchen. Or does he?

Skilley's embarrassing secret is that he doesn't like mice- He likes cheese! In exchange for keeping the mice safe, he makes a deal with Pip, the head mouse, for the thing he loves most. When another cat makes its way into the pub, everything is turned upside down and the mice and Skilley are in danger! The crisis may even bring down the British Monarchy! The whole thing is watched closely by Mr. Dickens who comes in every day to write, stumped by writer's block; if he could only find that first line! This was a really funny book for middle readers, history in a small slice, and there are scenes that will have kids laughing aloud. The artwork and the artfully designed pages are a good addition to the whole package. (Ages 8 and up. Peachtree Publishers. $16.95. Available now.)

I have loved Richard Peck's books forever. Secrets at Sea is filled with his singular humor and love of history but taken to a new "low": a little family of mice follow their human family abroad hoping to find a husband for the oldest daughter. As the ship heads east across the sea, both families find love and adventure while becoming a part of history.

The details of the time period are what set this particular book apart. It's Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee and the ship is filled with titled gentry, both human and mouse. This is history as experienced from the mouse's point of view, "...we are among the very First Families of the land. We were here before the squirrels. The squirrels came for the acorns. We sold them the acorns." Lots of information about traveling on a ship, both above and below decks, lots of information about the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, and Mr. Peck has included wonderful words and descriptions about fabric, clothing, and how people dress. Sweet, lovely artwork by Kelly Murphy perfectly captures the world of this mouse family. (Ages 9 and up. Dial Press. $16.99. Available now.)

Two of the three books feature Queen Victoria and cheese!

If you like books about mice, you should try to find a copy of Ally Sheedy's book She Was Nice to Mice: The Other Side of Elizabeth I's Character Never Before Revealed by Previous Historians. It is a wonderful book about Elizabeth I's friendship with a mouse named Esther and the secrets she holds. It's historically accurate and just a great read. And, yes, it was written by THE Ally Sheedy when she was 12 (Alexandra Elizabeth Sheedy), illustrated by Jessica Ann Levy when she was 13, and published in 1975.

(Please note: No remuneration was received for reviews of any book in this blog.)

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