Mouse Noses on Toast
By Daren King
Illustrated by David Roberts
G.P. Putnam’s Sons (a division of Penguin)
On shelves now
The British are different from you and I. They have more guts. Guts to do something a little weird, a little odd, a little random. Guts to write some of the most peculiar books out there for kids, and to be having the time of their life while writing them. I’ve read a million books for children about friendship, moving away, new pets, new siblings, and a host of other overly familiar topics. So once in a while it is a very great relief to pick up a book like Mouse Noses on Toast and to find it to be an absolute gobsmacked wonder of weirdness (in a good way). Parents and teachers are always looking for some good early chapter books to hand to the 5-10 year-old set. This book fits the bill and is just as engaging as it is loopy.
Paul Mouse has an allergy to cheese. Not the usual sniffing, sneezing, coughing kind of allergy. More the kind where every time he touches cheese his tail curls into a question mark, the hair falls off of his bottom, and his bottom turns bright blue. After exposing himself yet again, Paul, his best friend Sandra (an angel Christmas tree ornament), and a Tinby decide to have a posh meal at a local restaurant. By accident, however, they end up in the human part of the restaurant and become aware of a horrifying human delicacy: mouse noses on toast. Before long, Paul has teamed up with rodent activist Larry Mouse and many others of his kind to stop this terrible scourge, no matter what the cost.
I grew up in the early years of Nickelodeon, watching Canadian programs like Pinwheel and the like. One of the notable aspects of Pinwheel (called the poor man’s Sesame Street, which wasn’t too far off) was that it had lots of stop motion shorts from England. So my regular Reading Rainbow and 3-2-1 Contact fare was supplemented with things like Bagpuss, The Clangers and The Magic Roundabout. I sound like I’m completely off-topic here, but I’m going to make an argument in this book’s favor. The British LOVE inanimate objects that spring to life and go walkies. Their television programs testify to this and so too do their children’s books. In this novel you have a mouse that is allergic to cheese. That’s fairly standard. His best friend is an angel Christmas tree ornament. A bit odd, but still okay. And then there is "the Tinby". The Tinby is basically one of those small toys children somehow end up with that never have much purpose. It is described as "curved at the top and flat at the bottom, with little square legs, tiny black eyes and nothing else." Huh. Yet somehow it makes sense within the contest of this little world.
You see the book is deeply faithful to its own interior logic. In this story humans find mouse noses on toast to be a supreme delicacy (they also enjoy colorful parrot soup with extra beaky bits, but that’s neither here nor there). Mice attempt to make petitions to present to the Prime Minister, wear sandals and glasses if they’re hippies, and Tinbys have a tendency to turn mad when severely alarmed. Daren King is a writer with a style entirely of his own. I’m usually very skeptical of adult authors that make the switchover into the world of children’s literature, but King avoids many of the traps his contemporaries have fallen into. He’s the kind of author that can get away with writing the word "mouses" instead of "mice" and not sound precious while doing it. It simply fits within the story. I like that he gets a bit cheeky with his descriptions too. When the mice decide to raid the factory producing mouse noses for the mouse noses on toast I couldn’t help but be impressed with the name bestowed upon the dog helping them; "The Four-Legged Terrorist Transportation Unit". The ending is a bit weak and leaves some story elements unresolved, but all in all it holds together.
Thinking about it, I can’t imagine that any illustrator other than David Roberts have the cohones to illustrate this puppy quite as well as he. He’s made some very simple pen-and-ink illustrations throughout this book but they fit the equally paired down narrative. Roberts is a fan of complex backgrounds against which his pure white mice show up splendidly. What’s more, he figured out what a Tinby was better than most artists would, I imagine.
A lot of parents come to my reference desk and ask for good bedtime stories to read to their children. With its diminutive size, Mouse Noses on Toast isn’t ideal in that respect, but I can still see a lot of parents and teachers reaching for it as a readaloud. Fun early chapter books are worth holding on to like they were diamonds. Consider this British import to be a great addition to your collection.
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