Newbery Medalist, this time about an aristocratic mouse!
Abelard Hassam di Chirico Flint, of the Mossville Flints is out for a picnic with his lovely wife, Amanda, when a flash flood forces both of them to head for higher ground. They reach safety and are rejoicing together at their narrow escape when Amanda’s prized scarf is blown off. Abelard instantly plunges after it but, while recovering it, is swept along in a gully until he finds himself marooned on an uninhabited island.
Will Abel ever return to his beloved Amanda’s arms? Or is he stuck on this uncivilized island forever?
Obviously, the entire story is based on the idea of a civilized, clothes-wearing, book-reading mouse. But once you get past this, the story actually has a lot of merit. When we first meet Abel, he’s a bit of a dandy – he can’t stand to get his fine clothes dirtied, and breezes along aristocratically with his poetry-loving, dreamy wife at his side. He’s not altogether above physical exertion, but prefers chivalrous displays of honor rather than hard, sweat-inducing labor.
When he lands on the island, he quickly realizes his inefficiencies, and gradually begins to overcome them. Suddenly forced to build his own home, provide his own food, and keep from being someone else’s food, all while trying to devise a plan of escape matures him mightily in mind and body. As Steig says just before Abel’s final attempt to escape,
He was wiry-strong after his rugged year in the wilds. The Abel who was leaving was in better fettle, in all ways, than the Abel who had arrived in a hurricane, desperately clinging to a nail. [pg. 104]
Abel also realizes that instead of living off of his mother’s wealth, he should work at a trade – add meaning to his life beyond playing and daydreaming.
The only really problematic element was a bit of (possible) telepathy. First, Abel says that when he was a child, his nanny chose a star for him, which he would sometimes talk to. After his arrival on the island, Abel picks up this habit again, and says that the star “seems” to respond to him. Later, Abel “sends messages” to Amanda with his mind and thinks he can hear messages back from her, but he admits that he could be deluding himself. Although, perhaps a strange inclusion in a children’s story, this is a very likely development considering the degree of isolation under which Abel was suffering. He also crafts statues of each of his family members and sometimes speaks to them.
Less excusably, when an owl tries to kill Abel, Abel harvests one of its feathers and later “found himself uttering an incantation at the feather, not knowing where the words came from… He felt he was casting a spell on the detested bird of prey that would paralyze its evil force.” [pgs. 66-67]
‘Gosh’ is used once.
Conclusion. Abel evidences positive moral growth as a protagonist, but there are several iffy elements as well. Your call.
Review © 2014 Laura Verret