A Most Mysterious Mouse: Picture Book Review

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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How to Love and Care For a Book

I read to children a lot, but I’ve never had a child squeal with delight when I removed the book jacket to reveal the book’s cover.  Such is the magic of the book The Jacket by Kirsten Hall and illustrated by Dasha Tolstikova, published by Enchanted Lion Books, 2014.  Actually, I don’t often take the jacket off a book, but this one is special.

I read it to Karishma, my 6 year old neighbor here at BridgeMeadows community.  She’s become my go-to girl for reading picture books.  Most kids delight in story, but Karishma seeks books out and is always working on one of her own.  She was very interested in this story about a book that is alive.
Not only is Book alive, but he’s a bit lonely and in need of someone to care about him.

Finally, a girl discovers Book and takes him home:

The art is playful and inviting with lots of white space

But Book isn’t the only love in the girl’s life.  There’s her dog.

The name Egg Cream always gets a laugh from kids

Book can see why the girl loves Egg Cream, but he’s a big slobbery problem to Book, and that dog’s always interrupting the girl’s reading.

Tolstikova’s creates great expressions for book and the girl

One day, a disaster happens and Egg Cream damages Book.  The girl is upset and it feels like she no longer loves Book.  The next morning, however, the girl makes Book a jacket and he is even more special to her.  The last pages of the book show how to make a book jacket for any book you love.

One of the things I loved about The Jacket was that although Book saw Egg Cream as a problem and was damaged by him, they never became real enemies.  The girl, the book, and the dog are all a kind of family, and there are ways to work out things if there is love.  The sweet way the girl repairs Book delights the children I read it to. 

It’s always a pleasure when I find books like this because the children I read to are all part of adoptive families.  Some are adopted into families, some are with their birth parents but have adopted brothers and sisters.  They need stories about creative resolutions to problems. stories that show how damaged things can be repaired – sometimes in ways that make them more colorful.

I read it to a group of children, and before I started I asked them if any of them had a very favorite book they liked to read over and over again.  None of them did.  After I read it, one girl said, “The Jacket’s my favorite book now.”
When I read it to Karishma, it was just me and her.  After I read it, I took off the jacket.

She squealed, “It’s book!” grabbed it from me and hugged it.  “Oh Book, I’m so happy you’re here.”  Then she was quiet for minute.  “Wait a minute.  This is Book.  And Book is a book about a book.  That’s awesome.”

Awesome, indeed.

Here’s a trailer for The Jacket:

Kirsten Hall is a former teacher who wrote learn-to-read books for Scholastic .  She is the proprietor of Catbird Productions, a literary agency.  The Jacket is her debut picture book.  You can learn more about her by clicking here.
Dasha Tolstikova has held many jobs including photographer, reporter, film producer and painter.  This is her debut into the world of picture books.  You can find out more about her here.
The Jacket was named a New York Times Book Review Notable Children’s Book of 2014 and a Huffington Post Honorable Mention for ‘Most Charming’ Picture Book of 2014. 
The publisher, Enchanted Lion Books, publishes LOTS of charming and thoughtful books.  You can see their catalog by clicking here.  I reviewed another of their books, The Hole, by Oyvind Torseter earlier this year and you can click here to see it.  I will review more in the very near future.
You can read reviews that Karishma helped me with here (Wild by Emily Hughes) and here(Hug Me by Simona Ciraolo).

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