MOUSELING’S WORDS, + an interview with author Shutta Crum

If you’re longtime followers here, you may recognize this little story, because I’ve probably talked about it before. But I can remember the lightbulb moment (more like lightning!), as a little kindergartener, sitting in my small green chair, when I suddenly comprehended that letters could be put together to form words. The world opened up for me that day in a whole new way. Maybe that’s why I related to Mouseling and his love of words in Shutta Crum’s new book, brilliantly illustrated by Ryan O’Rourke, MOUSELING’S WORDS (Clarion, 2017).

But it wasn’t just Mouseling’s love of words that drew me in. Another factor was my childhood fascination with all things miniature. The thought of secret tiny worlds populated by mice (or any tiny beings) living their lives within the walls of my house, just out of sight of the rest of us? Yeah, baby. If that was one of your (or your kids’) favorite fantasies, too, you’ll love O’Rourke’s colorful mouse-world details.

Here’s the flap copy:
“Mouseling’s family lives in a nest made of words that Aunt Tillie has collected and brought home from the Swashbuckler Restaurant. The nest is safe and cozy, and Mouseling is happy there. After all, the world outside is scary, and when you’re surrounded by delicious words like ‘zest’ and ‘sweet,’ ‘Tidbit’ and ‘noodles,’ why would you want to leave? But what if there are wonderful new words beyond the nest, just waiting to be discovered? Adventure is calling, and Mouseling grows brave.”

Eventually, Mouseling figures out that finding words is the “job” he’s meant to do. And when he finds the library … and its resident cat … his world changes yet again.

Do your word-loving self a favor and go find this book!

Meanwhile, Shutta Crum was kind enough to answer a few questions for us.

JE: MOUSELING’S WORDS feels like a very personal story, and, considering the word-centric careers in your background, Shutta, I’m wondering if there are elements of YOU in little Mouseling.

SC: Hah! It’s funny you asked this. In fact, I tell people that MOUSELING’S WORDS is my “auto-mouse-ography.” Me, as a mouse. Growing up, stories were treasured in my family. My father was a great storyteller. But money was tight and there were never many books in my home. And there was no public library in our little town in Michigan. However, the school library stayed open all summer! And, guess what? I lived just across an empty field from the school. So almost every day that I could, I’d scamper across that space and plunk myself down in the library to discover great stories—just like Mouseling does when he crosses the alley and goes into the library. Later, I became a librarian. (Of course!) MOUSELING’S WORDS is a very personal story.
JE: What was the initial spark for this one?

SC: For some of my books I remember exactly the impetus. But this one seems like it was simmering on the proverbial back burner for many years. I don’t think there was a single ah-ha moment. I do remember contemplating starting another book for babies, like MINE! or UH-OH! (Both published by Knopf.) So I was thinking of babies when a mouseling appeared in my head. Also, my husband and I had recently been traveling and I remember taking note of those pop-up billboards outside of restaurants with “specials” of the day. Sometimes, I believe, our imaginations are always cooking up yummy things in the background of our days. A little bit of this memory, a dash of that memory and presto! You’ve got an idea for a book. When that happens it can be surprising, even for the author, and satisfying.

JE: The story’s first person point of view feels exactly right for helping young readers/listeners empathize with Mouseling as he steps out, solo, into the wider world. Did the story come to you that way, or did you settle on this POV after trying others?

SC: The story absolutely came to me in first person POV, because from the beginning it was MY story. There are stories in which I struggle with the point of view. I’m in the midst of one of those right now—though, I think, I’ve finally settled on a POV after almost a year of trying! Point of view is important to voice, and voice is critical to the success of a story. It is always worth playing around with it to see which point of view fits best. But with this story that was never a mystery. But do note, as in your upcoming HOW TO GROW A DINOSAUR, Mouseling could be either sex. I’ve avoided pronouns so every child could find themselves. I did this in BRAVEST OF THE BRAVE (2005, Knopf), as well. Sadly, that book is out of print now.

JE: If you could ask illustrator Ryan O’Rourke one thing about creating MOUSELING’S WORDS, what would it be?

SC: Wow! Great question. If Ryan were sitting with me right now, I’d ask him about any difficulty he had coming up with the words scattered collage-like throughout the book. Some of the words Mouseling collects I supplied, because they were crucial to the plot. But many were supplied by Ryan. He works quite a bit with graphic design—so I’m wondering if there were challenges for him along those lines with this book.

JE: I passed along Shutta’s question. Ryan O’Rourke’s reply:  

ROR: “The biggest challenge with Mouseling’s Words was developing the wonderful environments that Shutta described so well in her story. From Mouseling’s nest to the library where Webster the cat lives, I wanted to make sure that I was setting the proper mood in each environment. For each spread, I considered multiple options in regards to lighting, point-of-view, and interior design. Character design is usually one of my strengths. With this book, I wanted to improve my environment-building skills.”

If you’re a word person like me, you won’t want to miss this one, folks…AND, as luck would have it, you have a chance to win your very own copy right here! Shutta will send a one winner an autographed MOUSELING’S WORDS. All you need do is comment below. She’ll draw a winning name in two weeks. Easy-peasy.

Learn more about Shutta and her many books at her website:

Learn more about Ryan O’Rourke at his website:


WINNERS! WINNERS! WINNERS! Yep, three of ‘em. The winners from the contest in my last post, who’ve won a copy of my new book, HOW TO GROW A DINOSAUR, are Jennifer Lane Wilson, Julie LaCombe, and Mary Warth.

But, wait! That’s not all. Suzanne Slade has a winner to announce, too. Jen Dieleman wins a copy of Kate Hannigan’s marvelous A LADY HAS THE FLOOR!

Congrats, all!






Jill Esbaum

Jill Esbaum

Jill Esbaum is the author of many picture books. Her latest is Frankenbunny. Other recent titles are If a T. Rex Crashes Your Birthday Party, Elwood Bigfoot– Wanted: Birdie Friends!, Teeny Tiny Toady, and I Am Cow, Hear Me Moo! Coming soon: How to Grow a Dinosaur. Learn more at


  1. Writing a picture book is like a puzzle picking just the right piece/word, the only one that will fit in that spot.

  2. I love the pic of Shutta on the library floor with a stack of books because we’ve all been there. Writers are readers.

  3. This sounds like my kind of read! I love miniature worlds! And words are my favorite medium. As a child I played with teacher Mom’s word flash cards. Letters make words and words make sentences!

  4. This book looks like it will become one of my favorites. Can’t wait to read it!

  5. This one sounds right up my alley! Can’t wait to check it out! Also appreciate the advice to take note of ideas everywhere no matter how small!

    • I think as writers we notice things almost without knowing that we’re noticing. And it all gets stored away. The problem is searching and finding the right moment when you need it! Hah!

  6. Adorable! Who doesn’t love tiny places and tons of words? Thanks for sharing your automouseography!

  7. A miniature mouse world plus delicious words . . . oooh, can’t wait to read this one! Congratulations Shutta and Ryan!!!

  8. This looks and sounds darling! Congrats, Shutta and Ryan, and thanks for sharing a little bit about your process in creating this book.

  9. Thanks for sharing the story of this book! I can’t wait to read it.

  10. This looks so sweet!

  11. “A little bit of this memory, a dash of that memory…” Love it! You’ve cooked up an adorable adventure. Can’t wait to share it with my grandkids.

  12. Can’t wait to read Shutta’s auto-mouse-ography…it sounds as delightful as Ms. Shutta. Thanks for the fun interview.

  13. Jennifer Rumberger

    I love Shutta and her books! Her newest looks adorable!

  14. The fascination of words…

  15. What wonderful words! Can’t wait to check this one out.

  16. This looks like a great book!

  17. Libraries are a wonderful childhood memory of mine as well!

    • They mean a great deal to me. When I think about it–they’ve given me my life. I met my husband through poetry, and had a career I loved in libraries. Thanks for commenting. Hugs.

  18. I’m a fan of Shutta’s and have admired how much she gives back to other writers. I can’t wait to read this book.

  19. Shutta has always been so generous with her time and talent. Many years ago she and Nancy Shaw helped me start a program in Ann Arbor through their SCBWI connections that brought authors and illustrators into the public schools at little or not cost. Because of this experience, I know there are many budding authors and illustrators with stories of their own to share today.
    Thank you Shutta!

  20. “…new words waiting to be discovered…” that’s what it’s all about! Can’t wait to read this adorable book that includes a mouse and a miniature world! Thanks for sharing this one, Jill!

  21. Looking forward to adding this to my collection of Shutta Crum books!

  22. I got to see the F&Gs for this book a while back. It’s awesome.

  23. Sounds like a story my grandsons would love. Can’t wait to read it.

  24. What a great interview! I loved learning a bit more about the story behind MOUSELING’S WORDS. It’s a lovely story! Thanks!

  25. “Fantastic” is the word I’ll use to describe this book (and Shutta). Thanks for this gift, Shutta. PS. “our imaginations are always cooking up yummy things in the background of our days” is now taped up on my computer.

  26. Thanks for the terrific post. MOUSELING’S WORDS looks and sounds charming!

  27. Sounds like a great book! Looking forward to reading it.

  28. As another lover of finding the right word, I can’t wait to find this book.

  29. Nibbling little mouslings and nibbling little humans will love to take a bite from this book. I can’t wait to read it. 😀

  30. Words are magical for children and us! Thanks for MOUSELING’S WORDS Shutta!

  31. What a great article. Would love to add an autographed copy to my Shutta Crum collection.

  32. I love the premise of A mouse that collects words! And yay for me, winning a book!

  33. I love picture books that delve into the world of words. Can’t wait to get to know Mouseling!

  34. Already ordered. I suspect I will have a personal connection to it, too. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

  35. Mouseling sounds like rubbing shoulders with A River of Words. Can’t wait to read this one.

  36. I want to get to know Mouseling! He’s an interesting little guy!

  37. I have most of your books, and I love them. My grandchildren have outgrown them. I’ve bundled them with ribbon into Shutta’s tour of words. I’m saving them for my great grandchildren. Mouseling’s Woods will be added to the tower.

  38. Very nice post–this book sounds fabulous!

  39. What a great and informative post, Jill! Thank you— I’ll look for this

  40. Oh. My. Word.

    What a great post!

  41. What a great story, so empowering to emergent readers. Love it!

  42. I’m a sucker for any story with a mouse (thanks to Beverly Cleary) and a library! I’m looking forward to reading it. Going to take a look at Bravest of the Brave, too, to see how you avoided pronouns. Thanks!

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