The first installment of a story about two mice friends who are separated from their village and one another, the chapter book Mousetree touches on big themes, such as family, community, and workers’ rights.
Friends Mirelda and Mindy live in the mouse village Mousetree. On an errand to fetch sugar for Mirelda’s grandmother, the girls are distracted when a basket of strawberries falls from a wagon and onto the road. Mindy crawls inside to gorge on the fruit and is inadvertently kidnapped when a human returns the basket to his wagon.
Mirelda is then carried off by a hawk, narrowly escaping through a hole in its nest. Mirelda finds herself in a farmer’s house and meets mice in the village of Mousetrap, a place of desperation with a dark history.
Separately, Mirelda and Mindy try to return to their idyllic lives while Mirelda’s grandmother frets about them, praying for their safe return. The book ends with a cliffhanger, including Mousetrap mice threatening a workers’ revolt against the mouse who employs them with meager pay.
Some of the themes here will require handholding from adults. Mirelda, for example, learns of a massacre in Mousetrap, and references to orphans and dead family members are common. A longstanding conflict exists between Mousetrap and neighboring Sandflat, with open prejudice described.
The narrative would benefit from heavy editing: Repeatedly, each missing girl tells her story to new mice, which becomes tiresome, and the dialogue lacks propulsion. For example, when Mirelda meets some new mice, they spend three paragraphs talking about cleaning the kitchen without this driving forward the story or adding significant characterization.
The book is illustrated in a style sometimes reminiscent of Art Nuevo, with images that appear irregularly throughout. The pictures are generally small, and several exhibit pixelated or fuzzy lines.
Mousetree is generally suitable for young readers, but explicit references to death and conflict will require extra navigational support from adults.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.