Late 2011 marked the passing of writer, Russell Hoban. I was familiar with Hoban’s childrens’ books, mostly the Frances ones, but when I read his obituary I discovered he’d written a novel for children called The Mouse and His Child (text, 1967, illustrations by David Small, 2001, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2001.) Curious about this book, I went to the library and got it out. The novel is about a wind-up mouse and his child bought from a shop, enjoyed for a few Christmas’ and then abandoned. It is at the point of the toys’ abandonment that the story really begins — the toys’ must fend for themselves in a rather cruel and forbidding environment outdoors.
The Mouse and His Child (previously reviewed by Marjorie a few years ago) is one of those novels that operates on several levels at once. For my daughter, listening to the story as I read it aloud on our long drive westwards for our Christmas holidays, the story was essentially about a toy mouse and his child, trying to reunite with the original ‘family’ of their toy shop days and evading the devious trickery of one particularly villainous rat. This basic plot kept my daughter engaged in listening even as other tempting devices like the IPad and the portable DVD player vied for her attention. For my husband and I, the story was so much more. Irresistibly existential in its peregrinations, unpredictable in its outcome, brilliant in its characterization, The Mouse and His Child was a deeply satisfying read-aloud for us. It’s one of those books ostensibly for children, but also very much for adults. It’s a book well worth re-reading perhaps at different stages in a child’s life. I’d certainly be willing to revisit its pages again. The book was made into a movie in 1977 but I’d try the novel first before going to its film version. The Mouse and His Child is a true children’s literature classic and I highly recommend it.