A Most Mysterious Mouse: Picture Book Review


I can’t tell you how much I love this book.  It’s the only picture book I’ve read that really gets to the heart of the creative process, how strong an idea can be, how it can take over your entire imagination until, finally you find what you’re looking for.


It’s playfully written by Giovanna Zoboli and translated from the Italian by Antony Shuggar.  Lisa D’Andrea illustrated it with the sweetest colored pencil drawings, emphasizing form over splashy colors.  There’s lots of white space in the story — room for imagination and for a fantasy about mice — one hundred mice, one million mice!




But especially one mysterious mouse that hides on the edge of a wide eyed tabby cat’s imagination.  A mouse he can’t quite see as well as he’d like, but knows is there, if only he thinks, imagines, spends enough time alone, pondering mice.


And he’s not doing all this creative work for food — he wants it to understand it, appreciate its particular mouse-ness and bring it fully to life.

What creative person can’t identify with that?  What child, left alone long enough, won’t begin to imagine something wonderful, if only they have time to daydream? Whether it’s an image, a story, a song — we have to sit with our ideas for as long as it takes until the right one comes along.  The one only we can bring to life.


After I first read this book, I was taking a water aerobics class with a 13 year old girl.  I was staring off into space like I often do, and she asked, “What do you think of when you stare off like that?”  I hadn’t even realized I’d been daydreaming.  I told her, “A most mysterious mouse.”  And when we were back from our exercise class, I read her the book.

Even though she felt she was too old for picture books, I’d been reading to her for years, so she indulged me.  We had a lovely discussion on the need to be alone with our own thoughts, about how all-consuming it was when an idea took over you, and how satisfying it is when you finally figure out what it is you want.


I had this discussion with much younger kids, too, most who seemed to innately understand the cat’s dilemma.

I like reading picture books from other cultures where the stories are little longer, a little more philosophical and not so plot driven.  This one in particular gives lots of room for discussion and letting our minds drift.

This is Giovanna Zoboli’s first book, but she has been working as a publisher since 2004, when she co-founded Topipittori, an Italian publishing house that specializes in illustrated books for children and young people.

Lisa D’Andrea lives and works in Padua, Italy, and had devoted herself to drawing and painting her entire life.

Antony Shuggar, is a writer and translator, working from Italy and France.

This book was published in 2015 by Enchanted Lion Books, an independent, family-owned children’s book publisher based in Brooklyn, New York.  For reviews of more of their books that I’ve posted, please check the following links:

My Little Small by Ulf Stark

The World in a Second by Isabel Minhos Martin and illustrated by Bernardo P. Carvalho 

The Day I Lost My Superpowers by Michael Escoffier and Kris Di Giacmo. 

The Jacket by Kirsten Hall and illustrated by Dasha Tolstikova

The Hole by Oyvind Torsetter

enormous Smallness: A Story of E. E. Cummings by Mathew Burgess and illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo

Cry, Heart, But Never Breakby Danish writer Glenn Ringtved, illustrated by Charlotte Pardi. 

Edmond: The Moonlit Party by Astrid Desbordes and illustrated  by Marc Boutavant 


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Picture Book Review: Two White Rabbits

It’s so difficult for settled people to understand the plight of migrants and refugees.  In recent times fear of people on the move — looking for work or fleeing war — has seemed to become magnified.  There are many aspects to the fear, and it’s easy to fan its flames to the point where we add to the problem in the ways we think we are going to solve it.

It’s a hard thing to understand as adults, much less as children.  When children see the news and ask why, what do we say?

In the book Two White Rabbits by Jairo Buitrago and illustrated by Rafael Yockeng, there is not so much an explanation as a brief, poetic accompaniment on the migration of one father and his daughter.


The little girl is traveling with her father, but she doesn’t know where they are going.  Her spirit immediately shines forth from the grim roads they travel.  She counts the animals by the road, the clouds in the sky, the stars.  She isn’t old enough to worry  yet.  Her life is what it is.


The father is trying to keep her safe and contented, but they must travel far for him to work.






“Sometimes, when I’m not sleeping, I count the stars. There are thousands, like people. And I count the moon. It is alone. Sometimes I see soldiers, but I don’t count them anymore. There are about a hundred.”

This book was published  by Groundwood Books in 2015.  Jairo Buitrago is a children’s book writer who lives in Mexico.  He has collaborated with illustrator Rafael Yockteng on several award-winning books. Both the story and the illustration give room for pause, for thinking, as if we are on the road with them, our concerns for safety somewhat muted by the spirit of the little girl.


This is a subtle, warm and thoughtful book.  It doesn’t necessarily clarify the migrant situation, it invites you along for part of the journey.  It’s a book I would share with all ages, especially middle-schoolers who may have only a vague understanding of the nature of migration.  This book is an excellent homage to empathy.  The girl’s spirit is so charming, and her tattered stuffed bunny seems like such a dear friend to her.  The two white rabbits that appear as the story closes add even more poignancy to her journey.

Migration has always been a part of human existence, and always fraught with fear and often, horror.  But it can also be such a good thing, people sharing culture, sharing knowledge, finding common ground.  Two White Rabbits doesn’t try to give easy answers, it only shows us a glimpse of one small family’s journey.   It leaves me hungry to know more.  And that’s the beginning of finding understanding.


For picture book that subtly explores the story of refugees, check out this review of The Journey by Francesca Sanna.

Thanks for reading my blog.

My Little Small – a picture book review

When I taught arts and crafts to young children, I was struck by how often they wanted to make a small creature they could keep in their pockets, to nurture and, often, to sleep with.  I also worked with people in their 70s and 80s, people with disabilities, people who were becoming increasingly isolated in life whose lives were made less difficult by adopting small dogs or cats.

My Little Small by Ulf Stark, pictures by Linda Bondestam, translated from Swedish by Annie Prime,  published by Enchanted Lion Press, 2018, addresses this need to nurture and be needed in a funny and subtle way.  It’s possibly the most enjoyable picture book I’ve read this year — and that encompasses a lot of picture books from those published in 1950s til the present.

my little small

“In a mountain deep in a cave,

in the dark, there lives a Creature.

The sun hurts her eyes and her skin, too.

If she were to outside in the daylight,

she would feel a little sick.  Then very sick.

Then she would die.

So she she stays inside and, like the mountain,

is gray, gray, gray.”

Right away, you know this is no ordinary children’s book — introducing weakness, sickness and death on the first page.  And yet the Creature peeking out to check for the setting sun is anything but macabre, even with her sharp teeth.  She has this wide-eyed innocence and curiosity that springs to light in Bondestam’s energetic grays.


She tries hard to nurture herself and not feel too lonely,  singing songs with her growly voice — “GRR.”  But sometimes she gets grumpy, pounds rocks, and grinds them between her teeth.  She falls in love with reflection of the moon on the water but when she tries to swim out to it and embrace it:



The story is full of lovely amusing phrases such as the Creature’s tears making “the sea even wetter.”

But one day, a fragile spark flies into her cave:



And so begins a relationship between two creatures who can’t possibly fulfill each others’ needs.  The Spark and the Creature know their time is limited, yet they fill it with stories and friendship.  The Spark tells the Creature about the beauty of the world of light.  Then we are treated to a look at all the colors of the earth:



I’d love to have this picture on my wall.

Ulf Stark, the author of this book, was one of Sweden’s most beloved poets.  He wrote some 100 books for children and young adults, as well as screen plays.  The translator, Annie Prime, is literary translator of Spanish, French, Swedish and Russian, who received her MA in translation from University College, London, and has translated 5 books.  This version of My Little Small is vibrant, witty and completely engaging.  I love that there is lots of text — some picture books nowadays are so short, you hardly have a chance to bond with it or the child you’re reading it with.

Linda Bondestam, the illustrator, lives in Helsinki.  A graduate of Kingston University, London, she has illustrated more than 25 books and has been nominated for the Astrid Lindgrin Memorial Award, the highest award in children’s literature.

There is a silliness to this story, but also an elegance we rarely find in children’s books.  It’s amusing, but it honors the fact that children go through melancholy, experience loss, and long for someone to understand them.  Children have complex lives and emotions.  How refreshing to read a book that doesn’t shy away from that.

Enchanted Lion Books has always published books that take into account the complexity and curiosity of childhood.   They also publish translated books from around the world, which is so vital for American children.   It’s why, so often, their books are good for all ages.  You can read more about this remarkable press here, in an interview with publisher Claudia Bedrick, in World Without Borders:



Here are some other books I’ve loved and reviewed from Enchanted Lion:

The World in a Second by Isabel Minhos Martin and illustrated by Bernardo P. Carvalho 

The Day I Lost My Superpowers by Michael Escoffier and Kris Di Giacmo. 

The Jacket by Kirsten Hall and illustrated by Dasha Tolstikova

The Hole by Oyvind Torsetter

enormous Smallness: A Story of E. E. Cummings by Mathew Burgess and illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo

Cry, Heart, But Never Breakby Danish writer Glenn Ringtved, illustrated by Charlotte Pardi. 

Edmond: The Moonlit Party by Astrid Desbordes and illustrated  by Marc Boutavant 

And please look at their website for an array of fascinating books sure to expand your world view and keep you in touch with the wonders of childhood.

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