CM . . .
. Volume XX Number 6. . . .October 11, 2013
Meghan Marentette. Illustrated by Dean Griffiths.
Toronto, ON: Pajama Press, 2013.
235 pp., hardcover, $19.95.
Grades 3-7 / Ages 8-12.
Review by Mary Thomas.
Through the relentless rain and fog of that dreary, cold spring, Rory was completely miserable. He couldn't find anything fun to do. His brother Morgan, his older twin by one and a half long minutes, was much better at occupying himself -- he could make all kinds of toys and useful things out of scraps of wood and plastic. But Rory wasn't good with his paws, and Morgan knew it. Between his confident smirks, he loved to remind Rory of his lesser age, wisdom, and skill.
Normally, Rory didn't mind. He knew his own life was meant for adventure, and that's where his thoughts always roamed. After all, the Stowaways had always been known as great explorers and he was sure that one day he would become a brave adventurer like his ancestors. Only one thing stood in his way -- their father.
Papa refused to take his sons exploring, no matter how much they asked. Morgan simply accepted the denials but Rory could never let it go. He would argue that Gran and Grampa used to take Papa on adventures when he was young. And when that didn't work, he'd say that pretty soon the Stowaways' fame would be forgotten if they didn't keep exploring. But that argument in particular only made matters worse. Papa wouldn't budge.
So Rory tried to persuade Gran, instead. She always had a mischievous twinkle in her eye when she talked of her old adventures -- maybe she would take them somewhere. But Rory couldn't convince Gran either, since Grampa had gone missing on a journey, long ago. She told Rory firmly that her traveling days were over.
So Rory was stuck in the fog with a know-it-all brother and a strict father who insisted they go no farther than the path between their house and school, and for a mouse with itchy feet, this was wholly discouraging.
The Stowaways starts off, as quoted above, with a scenario that could be any family with a discontented son (or daughter), sibling rivalry, and unfulfilled dreams. Only the reference to Rory's not being good with his “paws” alerts the reader to the fact that this book is about animals rather than people. And not just any animal, but a special, very rare, species of mice with furry striped tails, big ears, and the mental abilities of bright humans.
They are mice, however, and Grampa has disappeared. Papa is sure he was eaten by a cat while out adventuring in the nearby town of Eekum. Gran is just as positive that Grampa is too smart to have done anything so stupid. Rory wants to find out, to discover what the secrets are about Grampa's and Aunty Hazel's disappearances (they had been out together), to have fun, and to have Adventures (with a capital A).
Finally the sun emerges from behind the clouds, school is let out for the summer, and the adventures do get started. As with Mary Norton's Borrowers books, and Chris van Allsburg's Two Bad Ants, one of the charms of this book is that we are allowed to see our world through the eyes of another, much smaller, creature. Hollowed-out acorns are filled with wax and used for candles. Rides are hitched in bundle buggies and on bumpers of cars and axles of farm carts (great fun, because they, of course, rotate as the vehicle moves). Locked doors can be gone under. Toy boats can be sailed (though they must have been better made than many of the toy boats I have seen!). A scientific research lab is seen from the point of view of one of the experimented-upons, rather than the experimenters (scary!). All these things are charmingly illustrated by Dean Griffiths whose mice carry satchels and sometimes wear scarves, but otherwise don't depend on clothing to be cute. Their ears, tails, and expressions tell it all.
In other words, this book is charming, exciting, interesting, and really good fun. I hesitate to compare it to The Wind in the Willows, but it is in the same league; so read and enjoy. I especially recommend it as a read-aloud for those younger ones who would hesitate to tackle a 200-pager on their own, but will love hearing the story.
Mary Thomas, who still works occasionally in libraries in the Winnipeg School Division, was raised on Shepherd's illustrations and Milne's and Graham's prose.
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