Advertisement. Click on the ad for more information.
Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Tag Archives | mouse

Coming Home to Safe Harbor

Lake Superior

Phyl­lis: This sum­mer I had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to sail for a week in Lake Supe­ri­or, so we are turn­ing our thoughts to books about the sea (includ­ing the great inland sea that bor­ders Min­neso­ta, so vast it makes its own weath­er).  If we can’t go sail­ing right now, we can at least read about it in a fleet of good pic­ture books.

Jack­ie:  And I am a self-con­fessed water gaz­er. I’m not a boater of any kind but I can’t get enough of being next to water, watch­ing and lis­ten­ing.

The Mousehole Cat

Phyl­lis: I can­not tell you how much I love The Mouse­hole Cat by Anto­nia Bar­ber with lumi­nous art by Nico­la Bay­ley.  As many times as I’ve read it, the sto­ry still gives me shiv­ers and makes me want to cry. Mouse­hole (pro­nounced Mowzel by the Cor­nish peo­ple who live there) is a small town where the peo­ple go out every day through the nar­row break­wa­ter open­ing into the ocean to fish for their liv­ing. Old Tom and his cat Mowz­er fish as well, for Mowz­er in par­tic­u­lar is par­tial to a plate of fresh fish. 

One day a ter­ri­ble win­ter storm blows in. “’The Great Storm-Cat is stir­ring,’ thinks Mowz­er,” and although the Great Storm–Cat flings the sea against the break­wa­ter and claws at the har­bor gap, the boats are safe “as mice in their own mouse­hole,” but the peo­ple are hun­gry because no one can go out into the ocean to fish.

Final­ly, on Christ­mas Eve, Old Tom decides he should go out to try to fish, for he can­not stand to see the chil­dren starv­ing at Christ­mas. Mowz­er goes with him, “for he was only a man, she thought, and men were like mice in the paws of the Great Storm-Cat.”

The Mousehole Cat

illus­tra­tion copy­right Nico­la Bay­ley

And it is Mowzer’s singing that dis­tracts the Great Storm-Cat long enough for the boat to escape the har­bor and play out the nets in the ocean. All day Mowz­er sings to the Great Storm-Cat, but she knows he will strike when they run for the har­bor and safe­ty.  As she thinks of the food they might make with the catch they have hauled in, Mowz­er begins to purr, a sound the Great Storm-Cat has not heard since he was a Storm-Kit­ten. They purr togeth­er, the seas calm, and Old Tom and Mowz­er come into the har­bor on the “small­est, tamest Storm-Kit­ten of a wind” where the whole town is wait­ing with lit can­dles to guide them home.  (Even writ­ing this gives me shiv­ers of delight.) 

Every year since then the vil­lage of Mouse­hole is lit with a thou­sand lights at Christ­mas time, “a mes­sage of hope and a safe haven to all those who pass in per­il of the sea.”

Jack­ie: The lit can­dles that guide them home after the adven­ture is such a won­der­ful touch. Don’t we all want to be guid­ed home after a great strug­gle? The plot is so sat­is­fy­ing as well. It’s the small cat that saves them because she begins to purr.  As I was think­ing about Mowzer’s purr I real­ized how calm­ing a cat’s purr is.  I think we all become more relaxed if we have a purring cat on our lap. Same for the Great Storm Cat.

This is a love­ly illus­trat­ed short sto­ry that I think would charm mid­dle graders, as well as pri­ma­ry graders.

Amos and BorisPhyl­lis:  Anoth­er favorite is William Steig’s Amos and Boris, the sto­ry of a mouse who builds a boat, chris­tens it the Rodent, pro­vi­sions it with a delight­ful list of items, and sets sail on the ocean. Amos is less lucky than Old Tom and Mowz­er; one night, gaz­ing at the vast and star­ry sky while lying on his boat, he rolls over­board, and the Rodent in full sail bowls along with­out him. Amos man­ages to stay afloat through the night, lead­ing to one of my favorite com­fort­ing lines in all of pic­ture books: “Morn­ing came, as it always does.” And with morn­ing comes Boris the whale, just as Amos’s strength is fail­ing. Boris gives Amos a ride home by whale­back, and on the week­long jour­ney they become “the clos­est pos­si­ble friends.”

Jack­ie: I just love that!

Phyl­lis:  When they near shore, Amos thanks Boris and offers his help if Boris ever needs it, which amus­es Boris. He can’t imag­ine how a lit­tle mouse could ever help him.

Amos and Boris by William Steig

illus­tra­tion copy­right William Steig

Years pass. Hur­ri­cane Yet­ta flings Boris ashore right by Amos’s house. Boris will die unless he gets back in the water, and Amos runs off to get help: two ele­phants who roll the whale back into the ocean while Amos stands on one of their heads, yelling instruc­tions that no one can hear. Soon Boris is afloat again, whale tears rolling down his cheeks. Know­ing they might nev­er meet again, the friends say a tear­ful good-bye, know­ing, too, that they will always remem­ber each oth­er.

In anoth­er writer’s hands, I might make some com­ment about the con­ve­nient “ele­phants ex machi­na” that Amos finds, but I accept it com­plete­ly here, because Steig makes me believe. And cry, again.

Jack­ie: There is so much to love in this sto­ry. First, the list of items: cheese, bis­cuits, acorns, hon­ey, wheat germ [Steig must have includ­ed wheat germ because he liked the sound. Wheat germ?] fresh water, a com­pass, a sex­tant, a tele­scope, a saw, a ham­mer and nails and some wood, … a nee­dle and thread for the mend­ing of torn sails and var­i­ous oth­er neces­si­ties such as ban­dages and iodine, a yo-yo and play­ing cards.” I just love the notion of a mouse on a boat prac­tic­ing his yo-yo tricks. And I think read­ers will be called to ask them­selves what they might find essen­tial for a sea jour­ney.

And I’m admir­ing of the nuanced way Steig moves the plot along. Amos doesn’t roll off the boat because he falls asleep, or because a high wind blows him off. He falls off because he is “over­whelmed by the beau­ty and mys­tery of every­thing.” His own capac­i­ty for awe is what caus­es the prob­lem.

You have talked about the won­der­ful back and forth of help­ing between Amos and Boris. I want to men­tion, too, Boris’s won­der­ful voice. When the mouse meets the whale, he says. “’I’m a mouse, which is a mam­mal, the high­est form of life. I live on land.’

Holy clam and cut­tle­fish!’ said the whale. I’m a mam­mal myself, though I live in the sea. Call me Boris,’ he added.” [A lit­tle nod to “Call me Ish­mael?”]

Some­times good luck hap­pens. When the worst looks inevitable, fate inter­venes. And some­times fate gives us life-sav­ing ele­phants. They are such a relief. And so out­landish. It’s as if Steig is say­ing, “I’m the author. I can do this.”

Little Tim and the Brave Sea CaptainPhyl­lis:  Edward Ardiz­zone wrote and illus­trat­ed a series of eleven books about Lit­tle Tim, who goes to sea, begin­ning with Lit­tle Tim and The Brave Sea Cap­tain and end­ing with Tim’s Last Voy­age. We loved these books when my chil­dren were grow­ing up, and we still do. Vis­it this site so you can hear a sam­ple of Lit­tle Tim and The Brave Sea Cap­tain read aloud and see Ardizzone’s won­der­ful art. 

Jack­ie:  I love the lan­guage of this book: “’Some­times Tim would aston­ish his par­ents by say­ing, ’That’s a Cunarder’ or ‘Look at that bar­quen­tine on the port bow.’” [I want to say that again and again.] When his par­ents say he is much too young to go to sea, Tim is “so sad that he resolved, at the first oppor­tu­ni­ty, to run away to sea.”

Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain

illus­tra­tion copy­right Edward Ardiz­zone

But best of all, I had the sense through­out this sto­ry that the sto­ry­teller was going to give me a won­der­ful yarn and that, with or with­out ele­phants, Lit­tle Tim was going to get through this adven­ture safe­ly.

Keep the Lights Burning, AbbiePhyl­lis:  Keep the Lights Burn­ing, Abbie by Peter and Con­nie Roop is a book for those who pass in per­il of the sea. Based on the true sto­ry of 16-year old Abbie Burgess, whose father was the light­house keep­er on Matini­cus Rock off the coast of Maine, the book tells how Abbie’s father heads out one morn­ing to get much need­ed sup­plies from Matini­cus Island and is storm-bound there for weeks before he can return. Abbie takes care of her three younger sis­ters and her ail­ing moth­er and “keeps the lights burn­ing” so that ships can pass safe­ly by. She lights the lamps, scrapes ice off the win­dows so the lights can be seen, trims wicks, cleans lamps, fills them with oil, and saves her chick­ens when waves threat­en to wash them away, all until her father can safe­ly sail back to the light­house. A won­der­ful strong char­ac­ter for girls and boys to know about.

Jack­ie:  There is some­thing so allur­ing about light­hous­es and islands. I won­der how many kids have fan­tasies of liv­ing in a light­house on an island. I sure did. I real­ly enjoyed the mat­ter-of-fact tone of this sto­ry. As Abbie is first light­ing the lamps a match blows out, but the next one doesn’t, nor the next and she goes on to light them all, night after night for a month. No dra­ma, just a telling of what she did. No dra­ma but touch­ing emo­tion at the end when we learn that her father was watch­ing for those lights every night as evi­dence that his fam­i­ly was still there. That detail almost made me tear up.

In a Village by the SeaPhyl­lis:  We could sail on through sea sto­ry after sea sto­ry. A more recent book, In a Vil­lage by the Sea by Muon Van is a ele­gant­ly sim­ple and love­ly sto­ry that begins, “In a fish­ing vil­lage by the sea there is a small house.” Each page moves clos­er in, from the house to the kitchen to the fire to a pot of soup to a woman watch­ing the soup to a sleepy child to a dusty hole in the floor where a crick­et is hum­ming and paint­ing a pic­ture of a fish­er­man in his storm-tossed boat hop­ing for the storm to end so that he can return to his vil­lage by the sea where in a small house, his fam­i­ly waits for him to come home. April Chu’s beau­ti­ful art con­cludes the book with the crick­et paint­ing a pic­ture of that fish­er­man and his boat sail­ing home into a calm har­bor.

Jack­ie:  This book is so art­ful and so sat­is­fy­ing in the way we cir­cle in on the sto­ry and then cir­cle back out. And I agree about April Chu’s illus­tra­tions. They are won­der­ful­ly expres­sive. I almost expect the dog to talk.

In a Village by the Sea

illus­tra­tion copy­right April Chu

Thanks for choos­ing these books, Phyl­lis. I’m sit­ting at my desk on a qui­et, cloudy day but feel as if I have been on adven­tures. My head is stretched, and I look at my house and yard with new appre­ci­a­tion. The sea, or sto­ries about the sea, take us out of our lives, our kitchens, toss us around a bit, and with hope and help—and occa­sion­al elephants—bring us back home, where, as Lit­tle Tim might say, we are ever so glad for warmth and choco­late.

Read more...

August Shorts

Warn­ing: There’s a lot of enthu­si­asm ahead for these books!

Where Do Pants Go?Where Do Pants Go?
Writ­ten by Rebec­ca Van Slyke, illus­trat­ed by Chris Robert­son
Ster­ling Children’s Books, 2016

Well, this is just adorable … and I can already hear house­holds through­out the Eng­lish-speak­ing world chant­i­ng:

Where do pants go?

On your arms? No.

On your neck? No.

No, no, no.

Pants go on your legs, that’s where pants go.”

We all know how much kids love say­ing “NO!” This book depicts a charm­ing cast of kids in a row­dy les­son on get­ting dressed from under­wear to jack­et and hat. It’s a cumu­la­tive text so lan­guage skills are a part of the mix. The illus­tra­tions are boun­cy and full of humor. Get­ting dressed will be filled with gig­gles.

Sky Stirs Up TroubleThe Sky Stirs Up Trou­ble (Tor­na­does)
writ­ten by Belin­da Jensen, illus­trat­ed by Renee Kuril­la
Mill­brook Press, 2016

I won­der if a sci­en­tif­ic study has ever been done to deter­mine how many kids want to grow up to be the weath­er fore­cast­er on local or nation­al news. Cer­tain­ly the weath­er is just as much a pre­oc­cu­pa­tion for chil­dren as it is for adults. This brand-new, six-book series about Bel the Weath­er Girl is writ­ten by a tele­vi­sion mete­o­rol­o­gist with an eye toward enter­tain­ing and edu­cat­ing the read­er. In this book, Bel and her cousin Dylan head to the base­ment with Bel’s mom when a tor­na­do siren goes off. They learn how to react to the warn­ing and Bel explains, by bak­ing a Tor­na­do Cake, how the atmos­pher­ic con­di­tions must be just so in order to cook up a tor­na­do. A recipe for the cake is includ­ed as are inter­est­ing fact bub­bles. The illus­tra­tions are friend­ly and engag­ing. I know I would have read and re-read this series in ele­men­tary school.

D is for Dress-UpD is for Dress Up: The ABCs of What We Wear
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Maria Car­luc­cio
Chron­i­cle Books, 2016

This charm­ing alpha­bet book is just right for some­one who will grow up to col­lect fab­ric, care­ful­ly study fash­ions, and find joy in cre­at­ing “a look.” A won­der­ful­ly diverse group of chil­dren are dressed in cloth­ing and acces­sories that depict each word from apron (for a chef) to zip­pers (for two friends’ jack­ets). In between, we find leo­tards and over­alls and rain­coats. It’s the illus­tra­tions that are most invit­ing: so much for the eyes and brain and heart to notice and absorb. There’s tex­ture and pat­tern and detail (notice those galosh­es) cre­at­ed by a tex­tile and prod­uct design­er result­ing in a warm and enchant­i­ng book. You’ll know just the child to give it to.

This is NOT a Cat!This is NOT a Cat!
writ­ten by David LaRochelle, illus­trat­ed by Mike Wohnout­ka
Ster­ling Children’s Books, 2016

LaRochelle and Wohnout­ka (Moo!) are at it again: a book that has very few words but a lot of laughs! I love these books with few words because kids are so good at telling the sto­ry them­selves. With gen­tle prompt­ing from the adult read­ing with them, kids can be encour­aged to tell the sto­ry in dif­fer­ent ways. Per­haps the most fun is say­ing the five words in the book in so many dif­fer­ent ways with vary­ing empha­sis and LOUD­ness! It’s just plain fun to read this book out loud. And because there are only five words, every child can have the sat­is­fac­tion of read­ing this book on their own. The live­ly, humor­ous pic­tures con­ceived by Mike Wohnout­ka invite study­ing close­ly as the details add to the fun. Bring your own knowl­edge to this book: do cats like cheese?

The Bot That Scott BuiltThe Bot That Scott Built
writ­ten by Kim Nor­man, illus­trat­ed by Agnese Baruzzi
Ster­ling Children’s Books, 2016

Great Scott! I love this book. For any child the least bit sci­ence-mind­ed who loves to exper­i­ment or build things or cre­ative­ly com­pile what-ifs, this is a must-have book. It’s an awe-inspir­ing feast for the eyes and the ears and the fun­ny bone. The set­ting is a Sci­ence Day, in which stu­dents show their sci­ence projects to their teacher and the rest of the class. In a House That Jack Built style, the “what can go wrong, does” sto­ry pro­gress­es with much laugh­ter thanks to the spot-on rhyming text and the col­or-infused illus­tra­tions. The end­ing is inge­nious. I won’t spoil it for you and your small­er read­ers. But Scott’s sci­ence project saves the class­room from the brink of destruc­tion. I’m inspired to make my own “bot” right now and so will you be!

Read more...
Mrs. Noodlekugel and Four Blind Mice

Mrs. Noodlekugel and Four Blind Mice

The woman who cuts my hair, Amy, had a par­tic­u­lar­ly hard sum­mer the year her boys had just learned to read. Their school asked that she keep them read­ing over the sum­mer, but there were only so many Mag­ic Tree­house books she want­ed them to read. What oth­er books would be suit­able? The min­utes flew […]

Read more...