Wednesday, October 20, 2004

A mouse in the house

I picked it out of the bargain bin for its delicate illustrations.

The Mouse of Amherst, by Elizabeth Spires, illustrated by Claire A. Nivala, is an odd little tale.

When I first read it, months ago now, I was not impressed. I thought it rather boring and somewhat patronizing in tone. More than anything I was mystified at who the audience for this book might be. Why on Earth would a 8-year-old want to read this? It was weird.

Rereading it today, I feel differently. Maybe it's the sinus medication affecting my judgement, or the germ of illness crying out for a gentle touch. Maybe it's a realization in the face of miles of crap lining the shelves of the bookstores, farting dogs and celebrity discharge.

This mouse is a really sweet mouse, trying to make her way in the world, to know her heart, privileged enough to find housing in the wainscoting of Emily Dickinson's bedroom.

I was never a fan of Emily Dickinson. Perhaps that explains my initial distaste for this tale. My own personal taste aside, this is a lovely introduction to the life and work of an "important" poet. Beyond this, it might inspire the young reader to awe at the power of the written word.

My hand trembled and my heart beat rapidly as I read what I had just written. Was it possible that I was a poet? I scarcely dared to believe it. And yet I had just written something that expressed my deepest feelings. From what secret place had my words come?

Neither is there shortage of adventurous incident in the daily life of this poet mouse: a cat, an outburst directed at an unkind visitor, an ill-timed nap in a basket of gingerbread, and a ratcatcher called by the business-like sister.

This book will stir romantic souls.

Emily's poem made me feel the vastness of the universe, and a lonely sailor's desire for both adventure and safe harbor.

This mouse's tale made me remember the vastness of poetry, and a young reader's longing for the stirring of unknown passions and the compassionate voice to articulate the workings of one's heart. What 8-year-old could resist?
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