Do you know the Great Truth and the Central Secret of the British Empire? Probably not, if you’re human like me, so here it is:
FOR EVERY JOB A HUMAN HOLDS, THERE IS A MOUSE WITH THE SAME JOB, AND DOING IT BETTER.
So, there are needlemice and coachmice and guard mice–all sorts of mice, each with his or her own job, mirroring that of the humans who live in the houses, and palaces, of England. Unfortunately for the protagonist of this story, although he is a mouse, he is a very small mouse with no job and no name. Some of the other mice call him Mouse Minor because he is so small, but that’s not really a name. And our narrator has something of an identity crisis: he’s full of questions and gets very few answers from his aunty, Head Needlemouse Marigold.
I loved that fact that this book is full of repetitive motifs and running gags and just gentle humor. The mouse world itself is delightful to explore. Set down in the secret, hidden pockets of Victorian England where Queen Victoria is about to celebrate her Diamond Jubilee: Sixty Years Upon the Throne, the mice study in schools, sew costumes and uniforms, pledge service to the Queen, and generally keep themselves hidden from but indispensable to humans. When Mouse Minor asks about his name, he is told several times that “Nameless is Blameless”, as if that settles the question. His tail, shaped like a question mark, emphasizes all of the questions that Mouse Minor entertains and asks incessantly of himself and of everyone else. Not that he gets any answers–until the end of the story.
Illustrator Kelly Murphy is the same artist who illustrated Elise Broach’s Masterpiece, another book about a tiny creature in a human-sized world, and her illustrations are detailed, vivid, and uite a complement to the story. Note particularly page 121, “a fall from this height would do me in”: Mouse Minor is in the foreground of the picture, being dangled by some unknown flying creature from a great height above a human ballroom where tiny human dancers are bowing and dancing in courtly fashion. Then on page 140, we get to view an illustration of Queen Victoria herself, in all her (faded) glory.
I definitely recommend this book for a Cybils nomination.
Cybils category for nomination in October: Middle Grade Speculative Fiction.