A great children's book appeals as much to adults as to kids. On that basis alone, The Mouse and His Child ranks among the greatest children's books of all time. Russell Hoban (author of the beloved Frances the Badger series) has taken the epic genre as established in The Aeneid and The Odyssey and reinterpreted it using a host of eccentric animal characters. The titular Mouse and his Child are themselves discarded toy mice, whose consuming desire is to find a territory of their own.
Along the way, they meet an evil rat named Manny who tries to enslave and destroy them, a soothsaying frog who wears a glove and a lucky coin, an avant-garde theater company composed of crows, a rabbit, and a parrot named Euterpe, and many other inescapably Dickensian characters who create machines, fight bad guys, rob banks, and plot deep plots both against and in the service of the Mouse and his Child.
Some parents will want to know that this book has exceedingly dark moments. There's far more blood, death, and sorrow here than you'll find in most children's books, but none of it is nihilistic or gratuitous. Both the Mouse and his Child learn that the world is a sad place (as the Heidelberg Confession explicitly states), and a dangerous one—but they also know the necessity of hope in something real, the power of love, and the ultimate triumph of light over darkness.
These aren't just hippie values, either. Whether Hoban intended it or not, the themes in his novel have more in common with those of Christianity than any humanistic system. Repentance, faith, and goodwill are all tangible elements of the animals' world, though they aren't named as such and Hoban never,neverreverts to preaching. He tells his story with grace and poetry and really funny humor, and he tells it so children will understand, and so adults will understand even more.
If you enjoy books like Watership Down, Charlotte's Web, and The Wind in the Willows, there's little doubt you'll love The Mouse and His Child. Rarely do you find a book that's universally appealing, that's both sad and heartwarming, that includes sorrow and humor and beauty in equal parts, and that ends even better than expected, yet here it is in a relatively obscure volume that deserves far more love and attention than it's previously enjoyed, much like the Mouse and his Child themselves.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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