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Monday, February 4, 2013

The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse, retold and illustrated by Helen Ward. templar books, Candlewick Press. Random House, 2012. $20.00 ages 4 and up

"Then, one spring morning, his cousin arrived for a visit...a fine, sleek city mouse with a lot to say. "In the city, we don't have mud," he said. "And we don't have dangerous wild animals." "In the city, we dine on rich, exotic foods in sumptuous surroundings."

Oh, the joy that comes from visiting an old story, remastered by an accomplished and respected artist. Helen Ward brings her formidable talent with watercolors, and with language, to this gorgeous retelling of a much-loved tale. We can thank our lucky stars that she did!

It is a stunning book! It keeps to the original fable of the little mouse who lives a simple, uncomplicated and content life in the country. A chance visit by a city cousin changes all that. The urban cousin sings the praises of his life, and encourages his poor country cousin to come discover the wonders it holds. Suitably awed by elevators, bright lights, and food, food, food, the visitor embraces its many adventures. When the excitement, noise and constant action become too much, he realizes that his calm and quiet life away from the glare of the urban landscape is what he is truly missing. He returns home.

Helen Ward's magnificent artwork enlivens every single page with the detailed care she takes in showing her audience the countryside in its verdant glory. She moves from the soft pink-and-white apple blossoms of spring to the abundance of apples in the fall. In the brilliant sunshine and shadow of winter, a red fox moves stealthily in search of much needed food on a snow covered landscape. With spring and playful bunnies comes the city-slicker cousin, intent on enticing the country hick with the abundance and opulence of city life.

As the two mice wander the meadow, young readers will be as content as the country mouse, passing flower laden nooks and crannies, sleeping fawns, berry patches beside trickling brooks and wheat fields shining in golden moonlight. The scenes are idyllic. One cannot imagine leaving such beauty behind for the bright lights and big city.

With his cousin gone, the mouse becomes dissatisfied with what he has. He is sure there must be more to life than what he is experiencing. He longs for change. Off he goes!

1930s New York City is a wonderland of lights, and glass. There is so much to see, and to some places to avoid. Comfortably settled in the tissue that envelops Christmas decorations, his world is suddenly disrupted and he must find a place to hide. Delicious smells entice him to a food filled table and a brush with doggie danger. It takes nothing more than that to remind him what he is missing:

"He also remembered the song of the thrush, the sound of a worm in the earth, and the buzz of crickets in the hay meadow. He longed to be back beneath a night sky lit only by stars, to be safe, to be content..."

Luckily, he knows the way home!

You will pore over these gorgeous spreads, seeing the world as the mice see it and gazing in wonder at what makes both of them happy. Lovely, just lovely!

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