________________ CM . . . . Volume IX Number 19 . . . . May 23, 2003


Ned Mouse Breaks Away.

Tim Wynne-Jones. Illustrated by Dušan Petrišcic.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood, 2003.
68 pp., cloth, $14.95.
ISBN 0-88899-474-5.

Grades 2-4 / Ages 7-9.

Review by Valerie Nielsen.

**** /4


Ned Mouse did not like jail. He did not like his tiny cell. He did not like the food. And he did not look good in stripes.

"I would give my right arm to be out of here," he thought."

So begins Tim Wynne Jones' story of what must be the most unusual prison escape in fiction. Poor Ned Mouse is a victim of the criminal justice system, having been thrown into jail for writing in his spinach, "The government is unfair to mice," not just once but again and again! Tunneling from his cell with a dessert spoon, Ned makes the mistake of ending up in the warden's house. There, he cannot resist taking a bite of the warden's tiramisu.

Before Mouse had time for another bite, he was nabbed. "How foolish I have been," he grumbled to himself. "I never should have equipped myself for this expedition with a dessert spoon."

     After several disastrous escape attempts, Ned hits on a brilliant plan. It occurs to him that, though all incoming letters are opened by the warden, letters sent out are unopened. Thus is born Ned's ingenious design to ship himself off, piece by piece, to his friend Mort who lives by the sea. After making a replacement in the prison workshop for each of his body parts, the clever rodent, sends his real self off, parcel by parcel, under the pretense of sending a puzzle to Mort. Finally, only his brain and his good right arm (necessary for writing final mailing instructions) are left. Fortunately for Ned, his keeper (as kind as he is strong) has the brains of a tree. Fortunately for readers, Ned Mouse Breaks Away has a joyous ending with a wonderfully wacky Wynne Jonesian twist guaranteed to delight young and old.

     Though simply told, there is plenty of sly wit for older readers to relish in this tale by the multi talented Wynne-Jones who will be remembered as a two time winner of the Governor General's Literary Award for Some of the Kinder Planets (1993) and The Maestro (1995), as well as for his trilogy of picture books about the mysterious feline, Zoom. Older readers who note the dedication to Herman Bianchi (a researcher into non punitive crime control) may read between the lines to pick up the author's subtle critique of this country's justice system.

     Illustrator Dušan Petrišcic is a distinguished editorial cartoonist who created the hilarious illustrations for Tim Wynne-Jones' On Tumbledown Hill, a picture book published in 1998. Petrišcic’s pen and wash depictions of the determined mouse and his gentle giant of a keeper are irresistible, while his drawing style perfectly captures the tongue in cheek mood of the author's story/fable.

     Ned Mouse's story, a deceptively simple tale told with plenty of dialogue, will be fun to read aloud to an older group of elementary students. It might also work well as a literature circle selection for a group of gifted readers in grades 2, 3 or 4. Like all good children's books, Ned Mouse Breaks Away may be read on more than one level, thereby providing the best kind of challenge for young readers.

Highly Recommended.

A retired teacher-librarian, Valerie Nielsen lives in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.