As regular readers will know, I am a sucker for well designed and illustrated children’s classics. So when I stumbled on The New York Review Children’s Collection volume of The Mousewife by Rumer Godden at a library sale for fifty cents I had to pick it up. Described as a “lovely fable about unexpected friendship and bittersweet love” in mint condition with wonderful pen-and-ink drawings by William Pene du Bois – an easy choice.
Day in and day out the dutiful mousewife works alongside her mousehusband in the house of Miss Barbara Wilkinson. It is a nice house and the mousewife is for the most part happy collecting crumbs and preparing a nest for her future mouse-babies—yet she yearns for something more. But what? Her husband, for one, can’t imagine. “I think about cheese,” he advises her. “Why don’t you think about cheese?”
Then an odd and exotic new creature, a turtledove, is brought into the house and placed in a gilded cage. A friendship develops as the dove tells the mousewife about things no house mouse has ever imagined, blue skies, tumbling clouds, tall trees, and far horizons, the memory of which haunt the dove in her captivity. The dove’s tales fill the mousewife with wonder and inspire her to take daring action.
I found it to be a melancholy little story of friendship. Spare but evocative. A engaging story for young readers or to be read out loud as a family. May spark conversations about friendship, freedom, empathy and risk. And that is a good thing, right?
The author has an interesting background as well:
Rumer Godden (1907–1998) grew up in India, where her father ran a steamship company. When her husband left her penniless in Calcutta with two daughters to raise, she started to write books to pay off her many debts. She wrote more than sixty books for adults and young adults, including The Doll’s House, Impunity Jane, The Greengage Summer, An Episode of Sparrows and The Mousewife.
Just another example of why I enjoy spending a few minutes at the Friends of the Library sales whenever I go to the library. I support the library, enjoy the hunt for books like this one, and then get to enjoy the book for years to come. All for fifty cents!