The Orphan and the Mouse by Martha Freeman is, as you might have guessed, the story of an unlikely friendship set in an orphanage.
mice at the Cherry Street Children's Home have an unusual fixation:
they are devoted art collectors. The little mouse-sized pictures with
the conveniently sticky backs that Matron keeps on her desk are
irresistible, and Art Thief is a prestigious position in the mouse
community. Mary Mouse is the first female to hold the post after her
husband, the previous Art Thief, fell victim to an unfortunate
on-the-job accident involving the resident feline. When Mary seems about
to suffer a similar fate, she is rescued by one of the girls at the
Home -- but in the process, she is seen, not just by that one girl, but
by other humans, who schedule a visit from the dreaded Exterminator. The
Cherry Street mice will have to move . . . and Mary, the one who
brought this disaster down upon them, will be left behind. It's
basically a death sentence for Mary, except that the orphans are
involved in their own drama, one that Mary will find herself involved in
because of Caro, her sympathetic human rescuer.
This book takes a lot of inspiration from Stuart Little,
and reads like a mid-century children's classic. It's just the sort of
book I would have liked when I was eight or nine, and I hope it will
find an audience of similarly enthusiastic young readers today. The
characters (both mouse and orphan) are delightful, and there's just the
right amount of action and adventure to keep the plot moving along. It
does start with a rather traumatic mouse death (Mary's husband's
encounter with the cat), but readers who can get past that will find a
lot to like in this story.
I don't usually comment on book
covers, but I feel this one does a particularly poor job of making the
book attractive to young readers. The girl on the front looks no older
than six (Caro is supposed to be ten), and the cream background and the
cream nightgown make the whole thing look washed out. I expect better
from an artist of David McPhail's caliber.
(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)