Title: The School MouseThe-School-Mouse
Author: Dick King-Smith
Pages: 124
Reading Level: 9-12
Star Rating:

Dick King-Smith wrote Babe which I actually enjoyed reading – it had a British flavor to it (the movie, on the other hand, is ridiculous).

The Story.

Flora and her family are school mice – meaning that they live in a school. But Flora is concerned that they are not taking full advantage of the opportunities that a school has to offer. She determines that she will become the world’s very first educated mouse!

It won’t be easy. And she must be very careful to make sure that she is not seen. But can a mouse really learn to read? And when Flora reads that the tasty little pellets being scattered throughout the school are ‘POISON’, can Flora convince her family that there is something to reading, after all?

Cautions.

Purposefully or not, The School Mice was feministic through and through. This theme is displayed most fully in the relationship between Flora’s mother, Hyacinth, and father, Robin. Hyacinth is a hard-working, dictatorial, snarky wife, while Robin is an idiotic, incompetent husband who shirks responsibility whenever he can. This scene occurs just after Hyacinth has had a litter of mousekins.

In the middle of the classroom floor, she could see, was another mouse, pottering about, whiskers twitching. He was searching for any little bits of anything eatable that the children might have dropped and the cleaning ladies missed.

What a husband, thought the mother mouse, whose name was Hyacinth. Here am I brought to bed of ten children, and he’s not even been to visit me. And sharply she called out, “Robin!”

Hyacinth’s husband was an untidy fellow whose coat always looked badly in need of grroming. He had lost part of one ear in a fight and the end of his tail in a trap, and the other school mice called him Ragged Robin. Now, at Hyacinth’s summons, he came hurrying toward her.

“Hyce!” he cried (for it was his habit always to addres his wife thus – to rhyme with “mice”). “Hyce, my love! I haven’t seen you all day!”

“No,” said Hyacinth shortly.

“And you seem to have grown thinner, more slender, that is,” said Robin.

“Yes,” said Hyacinth.

“Have you been on a diet?”

“No,” said Hyacinth. “I have simply lost weight.”

“How?” said Robin.

“You had better come and see.”

Up the leg of the teacher’s chair they went and onto the desktop and up inside the cupboard to the hole in the wall.

“There!” said Hyacinth, and she could not keep a note of pride from her voice. “All yours!”

“All mine?” said Ragged Robin, and he could not keep a note of anxiety from his voice. Did she expect him to look after this swarm of ugly little pink hairless monsters? He had never had children before. What did fathers do?

“What do I do, Hyce?” he asked nervously.

“Do?” said Hyacinth. “You don’t do anything. It is I who have to suckle them and keep them warm and keep them clean and bring them up to be good mousekins. All you need to do is admire our ten children.” [pgs. 3-5]

It is obvious from the very beginning of the story that Hyacinth is the leader of the family. She makes all of the decisions and orders Robin about. He sometimes voices very feeble objections which she quickly shuts down.

“I’m not staying. That hole in the wall is drafty. I’m off to find somewhere cozier for the next brood.”

“Next brood, Hyce?” said Robin. “Next brood of what?”

“Babies, you booby,” said Hyacinth crossly. “Hadn’t you noticed?”

Ragged Robin looked at his wife. “You seem to have put on weight – grown plumper, that is,” he said. “I had not realized.”

“Hadn’t you,” said Hyacinth.

“Another lot of babies,” said Robin thoughtfully. “And so soon. I don’t know how you do it, Hyce.”

Hyacinth looked at her scruffy husband with an expression that was a mixture of scorn and resignation.

“Run along, Robin, do,” she said, “and see if you can find somewhere really comfortable for me. Preferably not in one of the other classrooms – children are so noisy.”

“Right ho, Hyce,” said Ragged Robin. “I’ll try the staff room first. Meet me there.” And off he went. [pg. 14]

And Flora is a true daughter of her mother. After Hyacinth moves her family out of the school, Flora stays behind to continue her education. She soon finds a boyfriend who, though less stupid than Robin, is every bit as nonassertive. Flora bosses him around just as she has watched her mother boss Robin around.

Apart from the problem of feminism was the problem of boy/girl relationships. When Flora finds Buck, her boyfriend, they move in together. This conversation occurs between Flora and Buck on the last two pages.

“And speaking of babies, I haven’t seen those new ones yet.”

D’you want to?” said Flora.

“Oh yes. Lovey’s not the only one who’s fond of babies. I just wish . . .” And then he stopped.

“Just wish what, Buck?” said Flora.

“Oh, nothing,” said Buck. He sighed.

“You’ve got your career,” he said.

“Yes, indeed,” said Flora. “What with you and Mother and Father and Lovey and Haycorn and before long Mother’s new six, I shall have a big class to teach, a class of . . well, you do the sum, Buck. How many?”

“Eleven,” said Buck.

“Well done,” said Flora. “You may have started life as a pet mouse, but you’re learning fast. I’m proud of you. Your reading especially is coming on a treat. Which reminds me, I remember finding something in My Very First Reading Book that I want to show to you now. Help me get it off the shelf.”

When the book had fallen to the ground, Flora began to turn the pages with her nose, looking at each until she found the one she wanted. “Ah yes, here it is,” she said at last. “Read me this sentence, will you, Buck – the one I’ve got my paw on?”

“Chidlren are a great blessing,” read Buck, with a little help from his teacher.

“Would you agree?” asked Flora.

Buck stared at her across the pages of My Very First Reading Book. “You mean . . . ?” he said softly.

“I mean,” said Flora, “that we are to be blessed. Shortly before the start of the next school year, I reckon.”

“Oh, Flora!” said Buck. “How marvelous! And what extraordinary children they will be, with your brains (and your beauty, thought Flora) and with you to teach them. Why, there will be no limit to their scholarship. Oh, Flora, you have made me the happiest white mouse in the world.”

“And you,” said Flora, “have made me the happiest school mouse.” [pgs. 123-124]

While I was glad that toward the end of this dialogue Flora and Buck decided to be happy about their parenthood, there were other parts that bothered me. Other than the obvious reference to a career as an obstacle to motherhood, there was one more. And that is this: at the time that this is happening, Flora and Buck are not married. They are still each other’s live-in boyfriend/girlfriend.

Unfortunately, Flora’s behavior also rubs off on her little sister, Love-in-a-Mist. Shortly after Hyacinth moves her family back to the school, Love-in-a-Mist disappears. This is how she returns.

In a moment the small figure of Lovey appeared in the doorway. “I’m back!” she said. Wait there. I’ll fetch my friend.”

“I didn’t know you had a friend,” said Flora.

“I didn’t,” said Lovey, “but I have one now. I’ll just go and get him. He’s a bit shy.”

Flora and Buck looked at one another, but before they could speak, Lovey returned. Following her, rather reluctantly, was an even smaller mouse.

“This is Haycorn,” said Lovey. “Haycorn, this I my sister Flora and her boyfriend Buck.”

Haycorn took one look at Buck and turned tail, ready to flee, but Lovey reassured him. “It’s all right,” she said. “Buck’s ever so nice He’s just white, that’s all; he can’t help it.”

“Lovey,” said Flora. “We’ve all been worried stiff. Wherever have you been all this time?”

“I’ve been down at the farm,” said Lovey. “There’s Mom and Dad, and there’s you and Buck, and I said to myself, ‘Come along, Love-in-a-Mist, my girl. It’s time you started living up to your name.’ So I went down to the farm on a nice misty evening, and who should I meet but Haycorn. He’s a farm mouse, you see, but I’ve been tellin him he’ll like it up here.”

“I’m sure he will,” said Flora and Buck with one voice.

“You will, won’t you, Haycorn?” said Lovey.

“Yes, Lovey,” said the very small mouse in a very small voice.

“And you’ll come to Flora’s class with us and learn to read.”

“Yes, Lovey,” said Haycorn.

“He may not want to,” said Flora.

“He will,” said Lovey. “Come along now, Haycorn. I’ll introduce you to Mom and Dad.”

“Oh, by the way,” said Flora. “Mother’s had six more babies.”

“Oh, goody!” cried Lovey. “I adore babies. I just can’t wait.”

“Wait for what, Lovey?” said Haycorn.

Lovey gave a squeak of amusement.

“He’s very young,” she said to Flora, “but he’ll learn.” And off she dashed, followed by her little swain.

“Fancy!” said Flora. “You have to admire her, Buck. Off she goes with telling a soul, finds her way to the farm, and picks up a boyfriend.” [pgs. 119-122]

No, I do not have to admire her. Instead of admiring her, I pity her. She has been raised with nothing but two feministic, overbearing females and two retreating, abdicating males for examples. So she has followed in suit and acted very foolishly.

Now, some may think that I’m making a big deal over nothing. After all, they’re just mice, right? Who cares what mice do? The fact is, though, that whether a story’s characters be people, mice, or robots, their actions demonstrate or enforce the author’s own particular view of reality. The fact that it is a group of mice who are here acting improperly is irrelevant. They are the characters, the models that have been put forth for us to laugh at, admire, and emulate.

On two occasions mice believe that they see ghosts of dead mice. These are quickly proven to be real mice.

Conclusion. I did not find The School Mouse to be wholesome reading material for children due to its destructive lifestyle themes.

Review © 2013 Laura Verret

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