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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Review of the Day: Mary and the Mouse, the Mouse and Mary (Part One)

I’m way behind on this one.  I got a nice review copy at ALA this year and then *poof*!  It disappears before I can get it home to review.  Ah well.  It’s a lovely book.  Better late than never, eh?

Eventually I’m going to turn violent. I can see that now. For years I’ve been able to keep my feelings for Barbara McClintock pent up inside. I’ve bided my time. When her name is mentioned in my proximity I hardly so much as blink. Yet knowing myself as I do, if Ms. McClintock doesn’t garner herself some pretty HUGE illustration awards in the next year or so I AM GOING TO BURST!!! I will be seen chasing frightened parents around my children’s room screaming garbled sentences along the lines of, "Adeleandsimondahliacinderellawhyarentyoureadingthemrightnow???" I will crouch like a savage beast in the nooks and crannies of the library then SPRING onto my unwary prey, forcing them to check out as many McClintock books as their arms can reasonably or unreasonably hold. Do you see my problem? And adding additional heartache to it all, she keeps churning out magnificent books. ARG! Just when I thought I could get over the heartbreak of not seeing Adele & Simon win a Caldecott (tears were shed, my friends) here she is putting her pen to paper alongside author Beverly Donofrio so as to create the utterly charming, "Mary and the Mouse, the Mouse and Mary." It’s enough to break my heart. At the very least I’m going to try to convince YOU to buy this book.

Two lives run parallel to one another within a single home. Upstairs there is Mary who lives with her mother, father, sister, and brother. Within the walls of the house there is also a mouse that lives with her very own mother, father, sister, and brother. As we watch, both Mary and the mouse go to school, learn the same things, and one night they both drop some cutlery while cleaning up after dinner. This tiny event means that through a mouse hole Mary sees the mouse and the mouse sees Mary. They’d love to talk but Mary has been warned off of mice, and the mouse has been warned off of humans. Still that doesn’t stop them from dropping cutlery each night and waving to one another. Time goes on and the mouse and Mary grow up. Mary has a daughter named Maria and the mouse has a daughter called, simply, Mouse Mouse. They happen to live in the same house, and one night Maria drops her books when Mouse Mouse does the same. The difference? After a little time both Maria and Mouse Mouse become brave and meet one another so that they can whisper a loud and happy, "Goodnight!" before going to bed

First of all, Ms. McClintock doesn’t really have an equivalent. Oh sure, I’ve heard the comparisons to Kate Greenfield but let me let you in on a little secret here. Greenfield? She was fine, but McClintock is better. I’m sorry! I know that that would be considered heresy in certain parts of the country and that I’d be pelted with large chunks of rotten fruit if I were to declare it too loudly, but I seriously believe that Ms. McClintock is the better illustrator. Consider the evidence before your very eyes. Praise be to Schwartz and Wade for knowing enough to pair McClintock and Donofrio together on this story. Since the artist normally works in a world of delicate lines and tiny details, I firmly believe that nobody could have complemented this tale better with her imagery. Miniscule details are one advantage, but there’s also the fact that Ms. McClintock had the wherewithal to know how to mirror her two separate worlds. I loved watching how McClintock chose to break up the panels. Sometimes you’ll have two long pictures on one page, showing the child and her mouse equivalent on one side and two different but similarly aligned images of the same sort on the other. Other times there are full two-page spreads that do the same thing. And then SOMETIMES McClintock switches everything about and will put the mouse on one page and the human on the other in a very different manner. A good illustrator knows the importance of keeping the reader’s eye moving up and down, back and forth about the pages and Ms. McClintock does just that.

McClintock also had to solve a very big problem before she started illustrating this book. Since we’re dealing with two generations of children, how do you handle the fashions and trends of the past versus the present? Do you forget about that sort of thing entirely? Do you make the book historical (ala the aforementioned "Adele and Simon") and, again, not worry about it too much? No, Ms. McClintock took a trickier and more rewarding path. Mary and the mouse live in the late 60s/early 70s. When the two go off to college, theirs is a world of bellbottoms, classic Volkswagen bugs, and fringe-wearing pop singers. I loved comparing houses too. Mary grows up in a classic two-story brick home. Her daughter Maria, in contrast, grows up in a one-story house that utilizes a lot of glass and natural stone. And when Maria goes to school she is obviously in the present day… but not so much that this book is going to age poorly. Even when she chooses to contemporize her settings, McClintock has a natural affinity for classical images.

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. I became a huge McClintock fan several years ago when I was allowed to paw through a whole drawer full of her original art at our shared publisher’s art department (with proper adult supervision, of course). One thing about her work: however much you love it in print, it is nothing – nothing – to the paintings themselves, which should be hunted down for viewing whenever, wherever possible. The delicacy of the line and color is barely hinted at in the published books. It’s a wonder and a delight.

  2. My library displayed some of her art from “Adele and Simon” just last year. What you say is true, Tim. There are brushstrokes involved in her painting that are barely visible to the naked eye. Intricacy thy name is McClintock.