Squeak squeak! 10 of the best rodents in children's books
Published on: 28 June 2019 Author: Ali Pye
Ali Pye's wonderful book The Adventures of Harry Stevenson follows the crazy life of a rather special guinea pig, so we had to ask: which other rodents in children's books does she love?
1. I Am a Mouse by Ole Risom, illustrated by John P. Millar
This tall-format board book was published in the 1960s by US firm Golden Press, but is still in print. I used to read it at my Granny's house when I was a child in the 1970s. It's a very simple account of a mouse's day as she meets her friends, and it has the most charming illustrations.
Several of the animals are American - chickadee, chipmunk, katydid, turtle - so despite its comforting story the book felt different and exotic to me, and I guess still would to today's young children.
2. Time Travelling With a Hamster by Ross Welford
Illustration: Tom Clohosy Cole
If you have a reluctant reader, like my 12-year-old son, give this one a try. My boy loved the book so much that he urged me to read it – and I loved it too, from the very first sentence: 'My dad died twice. Once when he was thirty nine and again four years later when he was twelve.'
It tells the story of Al Chaudhury, who on his 12th birthday gets a hamster called Alan Shearer and a letter from his dead dad. The letter leads to Al's late father's time machine, and Al travels back to 1984 to try to save his dad's life.
Things naturally get complicated and there are lots of sad, unsettling or comic moments (I especially enjoyed Al's wowing of 1984 bullies with a mobile phone). Alan Shearer doesn't speak - he's just a regular (albeit time-travelling) pet.
3. The Narnia series by CS Lewis
The Narnia books were part of my childhood and contain a number of rodent-related events. There's the odious Uncle Andrew tying magic rings around guinea pigs to transport them to different worlds in The Magician's Nephew and the gallant talking mouse Reepicheep choosing to stay at the End of the World to save his shipmates in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
For me, though, the most memorable scene is when the mice nibble through Aslan's bonds as he lies dead on the Stone Table: the tiniest of creatures playing their part in an epic narrative as daylight returns and the Witch's magic fades.
4. The Wolf, the Duck and the Mouse by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen
My favourite picture book, illustrated by (to me) King Of The Illustrators, Jon Klassen. I just love this: the pale pink endpapers; the classic typography; the cool, clean layout; the unusual, folktale-like story and, of course, the painterly illustrations that balance detail, texture and energy with white space. Just masterly.
5. Big Rabbit's Bad Mood by Delphine Durand
Rabbits aren't rodents – but they used to be (until 1912, when they got their own order, Lagomorpha). This is a funny, quirky book filled with Delphine Durand's adorably bonkers characters.
Big Rabbit has an uninvited guest - a disgusting, shaggy-coated Bad Mood that follows him everywhere. Poor Big Rabbit calls his friends but they're all too busy to talk to him... why could that be? The book has the sweetest ending and could be a great prompt to talk about negative emotions with your child.
6. Here Comes The Cat! by Frank Asch; illustrations by Vladimir Vagin
My Hungarian friend, who grew up under communism, showed me this book. It was created in 1986 through a collaboration between an American writer and Russian artist. In the story, a mouse runs around shouting 'HERE COMES THE CAT' again and again, in both English and Russian, making everyone in the mice's world increasingly worried. Fear spreads. Eventually the terrible cat arrives – but brings a giant wheel of cheese!
This is a thought-provoking book, with beautifully detailed illustrations adding a world of context to just those four words, which are repeated again and again.
7. Little Mouse's Big Breakfast by Christine Pym
I love Christine Pym's gorgeous, painted illustrations - her characters are wonderfully quirky and sweet - so this is a visual feast in addition to a fun read. Little Mouse sets out to look for breakfast and discovers a towering haul of delicious items... but then faces the prospect of becoming breakfast himself! Luckily he scampers to safety, with just one small, plain seed for breakfast: that's all he needs, for now....
8. The Getaway by Ed Vere
Ed Vere's books always hit the spot, and in The Getaway he has created a comic antihero – Fingers McGraw, the sneakiest cheese thief in town. The reader is invited to be Fingers' lookout ('hey kid, keep those peepers open'), keeping an eye out for officer Elephant as the notorious robber heads through downtown New York.
The illustrations combine photographic elements with a drawing style that's bursting with energy and fun. The text is great too: words like 'scram', 'loot', 'holy macaroni', 'skidaddle' and 'here's the deal', which cry out to be read aloud in an American accent! This could be another great option for boys who aren't keen on reading - it's such good fun.
9. Brambly Hedge series by Jill Barkem
This series was very popular in the 1980s (my younger sister had a Brambly Hedge poster on her bedroom wall), but it's less so now. I took another look for this list and I'd forgotten how beautiful and skilful the paintings are.
One book in particular stood out: The High Hills. This has some gorgeous paintings of little mice up in the mountains, and because there's mild peril in the story it is punchier than the other books in the series.
10. Fantastic Mr Fox by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Jill Bennett
Another book from my childhood. The edition I read was illustrated by Jill Bennett; later versions have featured illustrations by Tony Ross and Quentin Blake. The rat in this story is a minor and horrible character (a 'saucy beast', in the words of Mr Fox). I loved Mr Fox's crazy inventiveness and positivity: this is a must-have for any child's bookshelf.