Over the last month or so, my nieces and I have been reading Bless This Mouse by Lois Lowry. We started it on one scaryish night when I picked them up at the hospital emergency room. My brother-in-law had a mishap with a chisel in the garage resulting in a flesh wound that created an enormous amount of blood. (He’s fine — couple of stitches and thankful it didn’t hit the artery.) The whole family jumped in the van and took him in…and then sat there amongst all the other scary things that come into a busy ER.
The girls were wide-eyed and wound up when I got there. A little debriefing was needed. Over popcorn we balanced the gory details with the scientific/medical ones. We went to their house — under the guise of picking up a comforting blanket — and witnessed the blood drops on the garage floor etc. And then we came back to my house to see if we could get everyone’s heart-rate back down so there would be a prayer of going to bed once Mom and Dad came to get them. A good book was needed.
We went to my office to peruse the shelves. They’ve read many of the books I have. Others they aren’t old enough to read. We discussed, and they gently argued about which one would be perfect. I pulled Bless This Mouse off the shelf.
“That one!” said one.
“Yes, that one!” said the other. And then they argued over who should get to carry it to the couch.
It was the mice on the front that fired their interest. Eric Rohmann illustrated them and they are quite perfect. As are the drawings scattered throughout the little novel itself. They are exactly as you would imagine clothed church mice to look. Their personalities, their reverence and irreverence, and their anthropomorphized mousiness is just exactly right. He had a good story to work with, of course. Lowry’s Roderick, Hildegarde, Ignatious, and Harvey are quite distinct, loveable, mice full of grace and foibles both.
We read a few of the chapters that night. And we read a few more last week when I was in charge of getting them ready for bed while their parents were at “curriculum night.” Both were absolutely taken in by the story. How do I know? Deep breathing the first night we read — they both breathe super deep through their nose when they’re utterly absorbed. The second installment, they were each trying to do something else while I read — one was working on a craft project and one was trying to build a hiding place from which to leap out and surprise her parents when they came home — and both kept losing their focus at what they were doing.
The conflict in this book — that plot device that is so very necessary — centers on the imminent risk of the “Great X” and the looming risk of a rainy day Blessing of the Animals.
My nieces are growing up in a house with a deep love for all God’s creatures. I wasn’t sure if they would understand that the Great X was the exterminator, and that the risk of cats during an indoor Blessing of the Animals was a real threat for the church mice. They’ve been known to catch cute little mice in the house and keep them for extra love and observation. They see no reason why they shouldn’t coexist with their cat and dog.
As I read along, I tried to decide whether to illumine the risks for them…or just hope it went over their heads. It became increasingly apparent as we turned pages that the risk of death by extermination or animal kingdom hierarchy was going to be a major plot element.
We got to the scene in which the mice are trying to find the source of the Great X in the yellow pages of the phone book. (The idea is that they’ll eat the page and then Father Murphy won’t be able to call for the Great X. Very resourceful mice.) They look in the pages at the back of the phone book — the small section under X. And they do not find what they’re looking for.
“That’s not how it’s spelled, I bet,” said the eldest niece, not even looking up from her craft.
“Not how what is spelled?” said the youngest.
“It’s an x word — I don’t know the word — but it’s the people who come to your house to get rid of things they think are pests. Like bugs or mice. But the word doesn’t start with X….”
“Exterminator?” I volunteered a bit nervously.
“Are the church mice going to die?” said the younger one.
“No,” said her older and wiser sister with great confidence. She looked up at her sister. “That’d be a horrible book. They’ll figure it out.”
“Who will figure it out?” I asked.
“The mice, of course.”
Of course. We haven’t finished yet, but I, too, am pretty sure those mice will figure it all out. And I’m grateful for a book that dovetails with their imaginations and love of animals in such a way.