The Mouse and His Child
Arthur A. Levine Books
ISBN 0-439-09826-2 HC
256 pages
All Ages

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The Mouse and His Child
by Russell Hoban
Illustrated by David Small

Russell Hoban is probably best known and loved for his charming series of books about Frances the Badger. However, in 1967 he wrote a novel that many consider to be one of the great works of children's literature of the twentieth century, The Mouse and His Child.

The mouse and his child are wind-up toys forever joined at the hands. But when their mechanism breaks they are discarded, separated from the doll house where they lived and the toy elephant that the child calls "mother" (much to her chagrin). And so begins a suspenseful journey that is heartbreaking, thought-provoking, and ultimately joyful as the mice seek what seems at first to be impossible: independence (self-winding) and the way back home.

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Excerpt from THE MOUSE AND HIS CHILD
by Russell Hoban
Illustrated by David Small

Chapter Four, Part Two

The Parrot's Wings fanned gusts of cold air on the moon had set; below them all was dim and gray. The father and son felt the wind race like a road unwinding underneath their feet as, motionless, they traveled on.

"I wonder what happened on Manny Rat," said the child. "I wonder if he got away."

"If he did, we can expect to see him again," said the father. "He seems determined to smash us, and I don't think he'll give up."

"Neither will we," said the child. "Will we, Papa?"

The father said nothing, and the child's only answer was the wind that whistled by them as they flew.

"We'll find the elephant and the seal, and we'll find the dollhouse too, and have our own territory, won't we, Papa?"

"You simply won't understand how it is," said the father.

"How can we find anything? How can we ever hope to have our own territory?"

"But look how far we've come!" said the child. "And think of all we've done! We got out of the dump; we came through the war safely; we saved the Caws of Art."

"We escaped after the attempted bank robbery and survived the war only because we had Frog to help us," said the father. "And we saved the Caws of Art by making animals laugh at us. They laughed because we cannot even walk without being wound up, because we have no teeth or claws and can do nothing for ourselves. They laughed because we are ridiculous." Then he was silent, looking down at the child who hung from his arms in the darkness, the nutshell drum and good-luck coin swinging from his neck.

"Believe me," said Euterpe, "Crow doesn't think you're ridiculous, and neither do I. What you did was pretty clever, and it was brave too. You might have been smashed by that mob."

"Yes," said father, "we're brave and clever-but not clever enough to wind ourselves up, unfortunately. If only we could!"

"Ah!" said Euterpe. "There's nothing you can do about that. Although, come to think of it, maybe there is."

"What do you mean?" asked the father.

"The beaver pond isn't far out of my way," said Euterpe. "Old Muskrat lives there. Ever heard of him?"

"No," said the father.

"Well," said Euterpe, "except for Manny Rat, he's the only one I know who can do anything with the clockwork. He figures out all kinds of things." She changed course and swung north. "He's fixed broken windups for the Caws of Art once or twice," she said, "so maybe he can help you too."

"We're not broken," said the father. "Not yet."

"I mean, maybe he can fix you so you can wind yourselves up," said Euterpe. "I've heard he can do almost anything."

The parrot flew steadily on, and the child, hanging from his father's hands, now saw again the bright star Sirius. It seemed to fly onward, keeping pace beside them through the distant sky. As before, the child found its light a comfort. His good luck coin clicked against his drum, and now he felt luckier than ever before. "Maybe we shan't always be helpless, Papa," he said. "Maybe we'll be self-winding someday."

"Maybe," said his father.

Below them, scattered houses and farms gave way to wooded hills, and the parrot flew lower. The trees came close as Euterpe swooped down to glide over a valley where a stream widened into a frozen pond. At one end of the pond was an irregular dam made of saplings and cut branches, and below the dam the ice-covered stream continued through the valley.

"That's the beaver dam," said the parrot as they flew over it, "and that big snowy mound in the middle of the pond is the beaver lodge. Muskrat has a smaller on right over there, and the entrance tunnel is somewhere on the bank. I think I see his tracks." She landed at the edge of the pond and set down the mouse and his child on the ice.

"Muskrat'll be sure to find you here," she said, "and if anybody can do anything for you, he can." Father and son felt a wingtip brush them softly as Euterpe took off. "Good-bye and good luck," she said, and was gone.


From The Mouse and His Child. Text copyright © by Russell Hoban.
Illustrations © by David Small.