Jeff Smith. Unwitting hero of children everywhere. It’s kind of a backwards story, but I like how Smith rose to fame. He got huge in the comic and graphic novel world, producing great works like the Bone series and the reboot of Shazam. Then Scholastic Graphix comes along, repackages Bone for the kids out there, and suddenly comics are deemed something kids, as well as adults, can enjoy. All well and good but Smith never really wrote specifically for children. Not until now, that is. For the first time ever this master of the pen has decided to try his hand at the great experiment known as TOON Books. The premise: Simple graphic novels for early readers. The kinds of books that bear more similarities to Go Dog Go than, say, Tintin. With Little Mouse Gets Ready Smith has joined everyone from Art Spiegelman to Harry Bliss with his own very simple tale. Mousewear is now revealed.
When mama tells Little Mouse that it’s time to get ready to go to the barn he knows just what to do. Being a big mouse, he’s going to get dressed all by himself. With simple instructions, Little Mouse leads readers through the perils of getting dressed. For underpants "Just be sure to get your tail in the tail hole." For trousers, "I have to sit down to put my pants on." Step by step, Little Mouse gets dressed until at long last he is finished. Mama comes and then immediately wants to know what he’s doing. After all… mice don’t wear clothes! Silly Little Mouse.
Picture books on getting dressed exist out there, but generally they’re not particularly memorable. Ella Sarah Gets Dressed comes to mind, of course, but it won a Caldecott Honor, so that’s probably why I remember it. And anyway, that book wasn’t so much about how to get dressed as it was about personal style. The thing I like about "Little Mouse" is that even if Smith threw a dart at a board full of potential picture book topics (using the potty, going to the dentist, flying on an airplane, etc.) at least this is one of the lesser known but essential ones he could have chosen. The book really makes a serious effort at showing how one gets dressed each day too. From buttons and Velcro to snaps and where the tag on underwear goes, this is a downright helpful guide for little ones. The writing isn’t half bad either. Smith is prone to putting in sayings like "Yes sir!" in his books, which is more than a little bit adorable. Little Mouse generally keeps on topic as he dresses himself, but once in a while he’ll throw in extras like "If we’re GOOD, Mama will let us swim in the cow’s water," to fill in the moments when you don’t need a play-by-play of what he’s doing.
Smith has always had a strain of Walt Kelly running through his drawing hand. Like Kelly, he does a righteous cute animal. A bunch of them appeared in the Bone books, and certainly Little Mouse wouldn’t look one bit out of place in that world. And I love that though he’s getting dressed, Little Mouse still has the physiognomy of a real mouse (opposable thumbs excluded). His feet are ginormous, so he requires huge sneakers to get over his long, lengthy footsies. And with his clear cut pen and inks, Smith’s style is perfectly suited to the picture book/graphic novel format. He is crisp and he is clear. Kids will also get a kick out of the final image in this book where we see the family of mice trotting along, father looking perturbed as Little Mouse leads the way, fully clothed, proud as all get out.
Mind you, much of the reason I like this book has to do with its surreal ending. In it Mama takes one look at the now fully dressed Little Mouse and informs him that, "Well… mice don’t wear clothes." The entirely shocked offspring leaps in the air, dislodging all outer vestments while his mother remains almost entirely motionless. Turn the page and you get the book’s only two-page spread with the still motionless mom on the left and the retreating embarrassed speck of a Little Mouse high-tailing it on the right. Final shot and Mama regards the viewer, saying "What a silly little mouse!" which is all the funnier since she is entirely motionless AND emotionless as she says it. I can already see the literal-minded children of the world scratching their heads, trying to work this one out. So . . . wait. Where’d he get those clothes then?
As strange as it may sound, you could probably make an entire clothing optional storytime out of this book and Mo Willems’s Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed. The two have an awful lot in common, after all. Rodentia. The shame of wearing clothes. They’ve different focuses, but you get the gist. You could even throw in the aforementioned Ella Sarah Gets Dressed and have yourself a full-fledged thematic storytelling, if you wanted. As TOON Books go, I know that every time I review one I say, "This one’s the best!" but I think Little Mouse Gets Ready actually is. If you haven’t seen a TOON Book before, this is a good place to start. Cute and surreal all at once; my favorite combination.
On shelves now.
- Read About Comics,
- Forbidden Planet International,
- Robot Reviews,
- Comics Worth Reading,
- Todd’s Blog,
- Nerds With Kids,
Other Online Reviews:
- The women of Good Comics for Kids discuss the TOON Books, including Little Mouse, and examine the concept behind the series.
- Flip through some sample pages to get a feel for the book.
- And there are, of course, lesson plans as well.
- I don’t know that I’ve ever seen as immediate a book/plush toy tie-in as this one here. Clearly they’ve wasted no time. However, I am quite perturbed to see that he doesn’t have his customary running shoes here. Boo! We want shoes! We want shoes!