What I loved: The Mouse and his Child by Russell Hoban
The Mouse and his Child is a perfect book for the word-dreaming child. The tale of two tin wind-up mice in search of their own territory sings with incident, humour and emotion. At its heart is a story of family bonds that cannot be broken. And in Manny Rat the novel also has one of the most villainous figures in children’s fiction.
The Mouse and his Child is undergoing a revival – the Royal Shakespeare Company (who also created the musical Matilda), successfully staged the story in 2014/15. And now Faber has reissued the illustrated novel as part of their classics series – in a neat square-ish volume with bright gold-embossed lettering – not quite fifty years after it first appeared in 1967.
The novel begins around Christmas time in a toy store, where a cluster of toys wait for new homes and new futures. Soon the mouse and his child are bought, but before many years they are simply thrown away. You might say that there are echoes of The Mouse and his Child in Toy Story 3.
The pair endures the peaks and valleys of life on the road after a tramp winds them and sends them out into the world. They are raised high by a hawk and plunged deep into the mud of a pond. They ponder ‘the caws of art’ and what lies beyond the last visible dog. They meet a fortune-telling frog, a philosopher muskrat, warring ferrets, a bluejay that spreads the news like Twitter – and always at their heels is Manny Rat.
That The Mouse and his Child touches on deeper questions of identity, home and family only partly explains its enduring appeal. Perhaps it is the eccentric and playful wit balancing the more serious parts, or Lillian Hoban’s beautiful illustrations of the mouse and his child and the world they inhabit; part Wind in the Willows, part Thoreau. Or perhaps no equation can really measure the rich imagination at play here.
I met the late Russell Hoban in 1993 at the Perth Writers Festival. Before of an audience of hundreds Hoban produced from a small case the mouse and his child, wound them, and they danced and danced in a circle, the father lifting the child high in the air.
Mike Shuttleworth works as a bookseller at Readings Hawthorn.