The blurb says that this story is “set in 1949 and tak[es] inspiration from E.B. White’s Stuart Little.” The mouse hero Stuart Little is certainly mentioned repeatedly and is an important role model for the mice in the story. However, even though she is not mentioned, the human fictional heroine Little Orphan Annie certainly must have been lurking in the background as an influence for the author of this orphan tale. Kirkus Reviews says the story is surely a tribute to Paul Gallico’s The Abandoned, a story I’m not familiar with although I know the author (The Poseidon Adventure, Mrs. ‘arris Goes to Paris). The plot also echoed Aesop’s fable of The Lion and the Mouse. So it’s a story of many sources and influences.
Cherry Street Children’s Home is the domicile of about thirty some odd orphans, including ten year old Caro McKay. Caro is not very pretty, and she has a severely scarred right hand from the house fire that took her mother’s life. Caro knows that her mother’s death was her fault, and she tries every day to make up for her cowardice in not saving her mother from the fire by being “too good, too studious, too obedient, too nice.” The orphanage director, Mrs. George, depends on Caro to keep the peace and to be a good influence on the other orphans.
Meanwhile, in “mouse territory” behind the baseboards and under the floors, a whole colony of mice forage for food, care for their families, watch for predators, and steal art. Art has become very important to this particular mouse colony, and the postage stamps that the Official Art Thief takes from the orphanage director’s desk adorn the walls of mouse territory and bring to the mice a sense of wonder.
When Mary Mouse, art thief, and Caro McKay, model orphan, meet, they immediately form a bond that transcends their inability to communicate completely. And when Caro helps Mary escape from the dreaded predator Gallico the cat, then Mary knows that she must return the favor by helping Caro, even though Caro doesn’t know the danger she faces.
I thought this story was a delight. The point of view alternates between that of Caro and her mouse friends, and both vantage points feel spot on and give the reader a different perspective on events in the story. The plot moves along at a good clip, but each development fits into a pleasing whole as Caro discovers her true self in terms of “a new story, a true story.” The villains get their just deserts, and the book ends with lasting friendships and more stories. What more could one ask for?
The Orphan and the Mouse would be an excellent read aloud book. Fans of E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web or Stuart Little, Beverly Cleary’s Ralph S. Mouse, or Kate diCamillo’s The Tale of Despereaux should enjoy this book as another tale in that same classic tradition.
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This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.