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: http://blog.shutta.com
Learn more about Ryan O’Rourke at his website: www.ryanorourke.com
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!