Thursday, January 10, 2013

What's with the mice?

What is with the mice? So many children's novels for six to ten year olds have mice as characters. I have students who are addicted to Geronimo Stilton and will read any of the series of books that started with him. I have Year 2 students who 'just love' Emily Bearn's Tumtum and Nutmeg series, even boys. In a quest to stretch these good readers I bought some other titles with mice as main characters. Four that I bought were beautiful hardback books, 'ooh just like Despereaux' said one of my girls and readily embarked on Cynthia Voigt's Young Fredle. Back she came saying, 'this was good, what next?', so then she read Bless This Mouse  by Lois Lowry. Such good authors writing for younger children, what a joy! The other two were Secrets at Sea by Richard Peck and  A Nest For Celeste by Henry Cole, also good reads with quality black and white illustrations.

So you can imagine my joy recently when I saw a small hardback novel about a mouse written by Rosemary Wells and illustrated by the Redwall illustrator, Christopher Denise called Following Grandfather. I bought it and went home to read. It is not in the same category as the books above. In fact I am not sure who it is for.  What audience did Rosemary Wells have in mind? It is about a very close, warm relationship between Jenny and her grandfather. He seems to have raised Jenny because her parents are busy running a restaurant, but then he dies and Jenny is left 'searching' for him. So yes, it is a book about death and the severing of strong ties. Is this for all eight year olds or specifically for a child in need of reassurance after the death of a grandparent? It is set in Boston and draws on the history of Italian immigration to that area and this context, I think will be difficult for young Australian readers. Jenny is named for her grandmother, Jennie, so why change the spelling of the name?  It is a warm, well-written story and the opening paragraph kept me reading. It is also a lovely looking book with crisp white paper and appears to be the perfect size, but for me, it just falls short of hitting a target.

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