11.06.2011

Epistolary City: Love, Mouserella

If I was an author/illustrator who had just won the Caldecott for a fabulous book like Interrupting Chicken, I would be extremely nervous about all the attention that people would be paying to my next book. Of course, if I had just won a Caldecott award and I was the awesome Davie Ezra Stein I probably would have a bit of confidence in my abilities.

Predictably, David Ezra Stein's Love, Mouserella was reviewed by many and so I won't spend too much time recounting the basics. Stein crafted this book as a letter (no email for this mouse!) from a young mouse to her grandmother grandmouse who has just moved to the country. Imagine the cover you see on  the right flipped 90 degrees because the book opens horizontally, like an envelope. I'm rather surprised that no reviews I read mentioned that this story may have been inspired by the Country Mouse-City Mouse folk tale.  I can't help but wonder a return letter from grandmouse is in Stein's future...

The letter starts out as many letters do, "I don't know what to write..." but then builds momentum as Mouserella recounts her adventures in the city. She wonders if her grandmouse misses the city. She can't help but contrast her city life with the country life she imagines her grandmouse has: one with (sadly) no packets of ketchup, but one which is filled with starry skies. Mouserella writes about a city-wide blackout and I seem to recall that I have read several picture books that mention blackouts (in addition John Rocco's terrific Blackout). Of course, now I cannot recall which books they were. I suppose there is something in the city dwellers' collective conscious that just won't let go of those moments in the dark. (That would be an interesting project: all the urban picture books which mention the lights going out? Hmmm, how would one find those in the card catalog?)

The city in the book is mouse-sized as opposed to mice living an underground existence and I noticed that Mouserella's apartment has one of those mythical and coveted balconies with sliding glass doors. Like all city kids she gets to visit the Zoo (Ooh, scary cats!) and the Natural History Museum (Ooh, scary cave mice!). One of my favorite moments is when she plays fetch at the park with a ladybug. Of course the final image is of Mouserella mailing her letter in the blue city postbox during a rainstorm. I can't describe why, but the fact that it was raining seemed very appropriate for letter-mailing! This image also reminded me of how, when I first moved to the city, I had remember to drop outgoing mail in a postbox, rather than put it in my personal curbside house mailbox with the red flag up!

While Love, Mouserella is certainly charming and endearing in many ways, it is not my favorite Stein book. That honor belongs to Pouch! with its sweet and true simplicity. On my first reading, Love, Mouserella lacked an element of tension that I like in a picture book. However, I recognize that not all books need be overloaded with tension and suspense and in the interest of full disclosure both of my kids loved the book and have requested it several times. Their opinions in this case are more important than mine (although my 2 year old does think Pouch! to be the best thing since sliced bread).

I'm guessing your kids will like it too.

Want More?
If you prefer reviews more concise than mine check out these at Sal's Fiction Addiction, A Year of Reading, New York Journal of Books.
Visit the author's website.
If you also liked Pouch!, here is a lovely storyline of the book's creation (and a picture of the author at the Brooklyn Zoo!)
Read an interview with the author at Seven Impossible Things.

Big Kid says: Putting honey on your ears sounds gross.
Little Kid says: She's throwing a stick at that ladybug!

2 comments:

Even in Australia said...

I have this on hold at the library but it hasn't come in yet. I love Pouch and Leaves and I really really don't like Interrupting Chicken. I found it way too hard to follow (at least, my kids did).

Raising a Happy Child said...

I have to admit that I might not have read anything by Stein except Interrupting Chicken (which I loved). I have to look for this book!

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