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The Mouse and His Child
ISBN 0439098262 / 9780439098267 / 0-439-09826-2
Publisher Arthur A. Levine Books
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Like so many exceptional children's books, Russell Hoban's The Mouse and His Child clearly wasn't intended only for kid consumption. It certainly qualifies as a fantastic story for children: the characters are entertaining and memorable, the images powerful, the pacing tight, and the message unique and lasting. But this sweet, melancholy fable about a wind-up pair of tin mice--a dancing father and son joined at the hands--explores so many different themes of hope, perseverance, transformation, and the nature of existence (while still managing to be quite funny at times) that it's the sort of book that demands to be kept around for a lifetime of rereading.
The father and son's redemptive quest to become "self-winding" takes them through all sorts of trials, from the toy store to the dump to the swamp and back again, and all along the way the pair runs afoul of Hoban's well-realized and often menacing menagerie of characters, including the slave-driver Manny Rat, the distracted thinker Muskrat, and Crow and Mrs. Crow and their Caws of Art Experimental Theatre Group. (These last provide some of the best scenes in the book, getting a surprising amount of philosophical meat out of a play called The Last Visible Dog: "What doesn't it mean! There's no end to it--it just goes on and on until it means anything and everything, depending on who you are and what your last visible dog is.")
If you're only familiar with Russell Hoban from his Frances books (Bread and Jam for Frances), this gripping, sometimes disturbing, occasionally even violent novel might come as something of a surprise. But if you've read any of Hoban's later work, like Pilgermann or The Moment Under the Moment, then you know what this sophisticated and extraordinarily graceful writer is capable of, and why The Mouse and His Child deserves praise as one of the more profound children's works ever written. (Ages 9 to adult) --Paul Hughes [via]