Dear readers, I am back from the family wedding, and slowly returning to sanity again. Or something resembling it, in any case. This will probably be a short blog again today. The real news is that the Changeling has turned three years old (going on thirty-three, I sometimes think!), and what that means is that certain very thoughtful people were sweet enough to get books for… well. For her. For us. For those of us who enjoy the reading of children’s literature, yes? How about we just say that a non-zero group of humans in the house were excited by the books which arrived for the Changeling’s birthday.
There were some really, really good books, and I’ll probably be talking about a number of them over the next while, but there’s one which was just so cute, and so fun, and had such a funny kitty-cat in it that it immediately captured both of our hearts: How to Catch a Mouse by Philippa Leathers. (Take a look at her site: once you’ve had a chance to poke around at her art, I’ll still be here.)
The story runs like this: there’s a cat, and there’s a mouse. The cat, Clemmie, is such an excellent little mouser, bless her heart, that she’s never even seen a mouse in the house. She knows all about mice, and still she’s never seen one, so she knows that all the mice are afraid of her, and she’s doing her job brilliantly. But– uh oh. See that mouse on the cover? Right behind Clemmie’s tail? What’s that mouse doing there?
Yes, at the same time that Clemmie’s going around studying mouse diagrams and vigilantly ensuring that there are, to quote the refrain from the book, “no mice in this house,” there’s one little mouse scurrying around in a variety of disguises, nibbling tasty treats and stealing naps on comfy beds. Clemmie ultimately discovers his mischievous ways, and learns from his methods: the last pages show her buttoned up in a coat as the mouse goes boldly by, then scampering after the mouse with a triumphant: “Miaow!”
The story is adorable: it’s sweet, it’s funny, but it’s ultimately true to the spirit of a house cat. How many cats do you know who are regularly called on to do the work of a mouser? I know very few– just some country cats, not city cats. My cats– thankfully– haven’t been called on to be mousers as yet. But they’re constantly on the look-out, hence the pursuit of anything dangly, as this page shows:
(Sorry for the crappy picture: this was a hard book to balance open!) You see the sweet balance between realism on the right-hand page and imaginative, slightly fantastical details on the left. Any cat owner knows that look on a cat: “Oh, boy! Dangly thing! It’s a threat! I must get it!” (And any cat owner can also predict that the next page… well. Things fall down.)
But the mouse, now. The mouse represents the creative, the fantastical, as I said. Mice do not normally dress up with pompoms hiding their tails and masks disguising their faces, in my limited experience. But Clemmie’s mouse is doing just that. It gets a giggle, for sure, but it also balances the book, gives it a bit more heft. If we were just seeing a cat being a cat, it would be cute, but where would the story be? The mouse being not-quite-a-real-mouse gives us something to think about.
Thus much for my in-depth, oh-so-serious analysis of the book. What does the birthday girl think, though? For her, the pictures were the gripping thing. She loves watching Clemmie from page to page. I’d thought she’d be enchanted by the mouse, personally, but I was wrong: it’s the cat who attracts her. (“She looks like Telemachos!” Our new cat is a marmalade kitty.)
And I completely sympathize. The story is charming, absolutely adorable. But it wouldn’t be anything without those lovely, soft, yet endlessly amusing illustrations. Philippa Leathers does a beautiful and humorous job with the art. Unfortunately, I can’t find any information about the media she uses, but she uses them well. (I would hazard a guess that pencils and watercolours are involved, and also digital media, but I’m no more an art expert than an electrical engineer.) The soft outlines and gentle colours make Clemmie’s brightness really stand out, and the mouse fade back… unless the ludicrous pink nose of the mouse’s disguise attracts our attention, of course!
All in all, this is a delightful read. I recommend pairing it with a squishy toddler, a comfortable armchair, and a purring cat in the corner. Enjoy!