Read an Excerpt
America's mice have a government, too
With Presidents, Senators and Congressmice, who
Are elected, debate, vote the popular will--
It's a Rodent Republic on Capitol Hill!
There's a Capitol there that looks just like our own--
A Mouse House and Senate, of column and stone.
Mouse masons and workers copied every detail,
From the tip of the dome, down to every last nail!
One day in Moussouri, a wonderful state,
A teacher, Miss Tuftmouse, at about half past eight,
Told her class, "Settle down, everyone, sit up straight!
There's a special assignment, and it must not be late!"
"The class, altogether, for worse or for better,
Must write to our Congress an interesting letter.
You ought to get started, not later, but soon,
For you must turn it in by this Thursday at noon!"
Well, the children, excited, did not waste a minute,
Working hard on their letter and what to put in it.
For three classes straight, they wrote and they read.
Then the letter was finished, and here's what it said:
WE THINK THERE SHOULD BE,
IF YOU PLEASE,
A LAW TO ESTABLISH A
WE LIKE THIS IDEA.
WE HOPE IT WILL PASS.
SECOND GRADE CLASS
Miss Tuftmouse, of course, gave the letter an `A'
And mailed it to Congress the very next day,
Where it went to the mail room, where mail comes in crates,
From Moussouri, Moussissippi and other mouse states.
The Postmouster took to Longworth McMouse,
The capable, confident Squeaker of the House.
A copy was rushed across to the Senate,
To the Mouse-jority Leader, Russell Mouse Bennett.
Then Longworth called Russell as quick as a blink:
"A National Cheese--well, what do you think?"
"Good idea!" the Mouse-jority Leader said back.
"We'll draw up a bill to get it on track!"
To make a new law, Congress starts with a "bill,"
A document written with care and with skill.
To find the right words, mouse assistants begin
At the Library of Congress, and the books found within
Next a "committee" considers the bill,
For it just isn't finished or ready until
The members discuss it, make changes and more,
Then finally send it along to the floor.
That's the floor of each chamber,
the Senate and House--
That's where each Senator and
Gets to vote on the bill, and if enough do,
The President signs it, if he likes it, too.
But it's not always easy for all to agree
On just what a bill should do, say or be.
For example, the bill for a National Cheese
Caused a big disagreement, a lot of unease!
Some mice wanted Cheddar to take the top spot--
Some mice wanted Roquefort, but others said not!
Some said Parmesan, some couldn't care less--
So many opinions, and such a big mess!
Just when it seemed things
couldn't get bleaker,
The Mouse-jority Leader
agreed with the Squeaker
To gather the brightest
on Capitol Hill
To figure out how
they could rescue the bill!
The Rotunda was packed--a good place to meet--
When Senator Thurmouse rose to his feet.
The oldest and wisest in Congress by years--
The Squeaker, the Leader, the rest were all ears!
"Our Mouse Founding Fathers," he said, "were so wise--
They founded our nation around compromise!
They wrote it all down in the Mouse Constitution,
So after much thought, I propose this solution:
We are city mice, country mice, large mice and small--
We like many cheeses--in fact, like them all!
But we're Americans first! So now, if you please,
Let's agree that American is our National Cheese!"
"Bravo!" they all shouted. "Hooray!" they yelled twice.
"What a good compromise, what terrific advice!"
In the House and the Senate, it passed right away,
And the President signed it the very next day!
And back in Moussouri,
where everything started,
Miss Tuftmouse's class was
"Look, children, look," she said,
"isn't it grand?
We live in a wonderful,
Historical Notes for Parents and Teachers
In 1792, the new government of the United States held a contest for the design of a Capitol for the young nation. William Thorton, a doctor and amateur architect, submitted the winning design, and in September 1793, President Washington laid the cornerstone of the building. The north wing was the first part finished, in 1800. In 1807, the south wing was completed. The two wings were separated by a vacant yard that was the site for the domed center.
By 1811, most of the work on the two wings was done. But with war with England imminent, the Americans ceased further construction. In 1814, during the War of 1812, the British captured Washington, D.C., and set fire to the Capitol and other buildings. The structures were saved from total destruction only by a sudden rainstorm.
The reconstructed wings of the Capitol were reopened in 1819. The center opened in 1826, joining the two wings. The original dome was low, built of copper and wood. But by 1850, with the nation growing so quickly, the government had approved plans to design and construct two new, larger wings to accommodate the expanding Congress. The architects quickly realized that the longer building would make the low dome look out of proportion, so Congress appropriated additional money for a new, taller dome. The House moved into the new south wing in 1857; the Senate moved into the new north wing in 1859. Work on a tall cast-iron dome continued during the Civil War, and it was finished and capped with the ITL[Statue of Freedom]ITL in late 1863. Despite the war, President Lincoln insisted that the construction go on--he felt the work would be a symbol to the people that the Union would go on as well.
Illustrator Cheryl Shaw Barnes spent many days on Capitol Hill researching the art and architecture of the buildings there for this book. She also consulted with historians and curators of the House, Senate and Capitol. All of the illustrations are based on actual structures, rooms, furnishings and artworks.
In the book, the United Mice of America have built their own miniature Capitol. Our Capitol building is a work of art, with many painted walls and frescoes; famous paintings, statues and sculpture are everywhere. The building has a floor area of 16.5 acres and has 540 rooms, 658 windows and 850 doorways. Later in the story, the children's letter arrives in the House mail room. At the time of the authors' research, the mail room was located in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill. Now it is located in the nearby Ford House Office Building. The Longworth Building is still home to the beautiful Ways and Means Committee Room, where the congressmice review the National Cheese bill.
Unlike members of the House, Senators have their own desks in the Senate chamber. Many of the desks have a special history. For example, in some, senators have carved their names in the desk drawers; one desk in the back row is the "Candy Desk," stocked with a good supply of sweets for members.
In the story, when the bill is in trouble, the Squeaker and Mouse-jority Leader meet in the magnificent President's Room, off the Senate floor. The room, known as the "Gem of the Capitol," was constructed in the 1850s and is decorated with frescoes and oil paintings (the portraits represent the members of George Washington's first cabinet). Until the 1930s, the room was often used by presidents for signing bills; the mahogany table they sat at still stands under the great crystal and bronze chandelier.
To settle the disagreement over the bill, the lawmakers gather in the mouse Capitol Rotunda. The real Rotunda is 96 feet in diameter; the canopy is 180 feet from the floor. In 1865, Italian-American artist Constantino Brumidi painted a 4,664-squarefoot fresco on the canopy, ITL[The Apotheosis of George Washington]ITL, which honors the life of the first president. Other famous works of art, including John Trumbull's ITL[Declaration of Independence]ITL (1819), hang from the Rotunda wall. In the story, the illustration of the mouse Founding Fathers is based on Howard Chandler Christy's ITL[Scene at the Signing of the Constitution]ITL (1940), which hangs in the east stairway of the House wing. The 20 x 30 foot canvas is the largest painting in the Capitol.
When the mouse Congress passes the National Cheese bill, members go to the White House for the signing ceremony in the Oval Office with the mouse president, Woodrow G. Washingtail. (He is the main character of the authors' first Washington, D.C., book, ITL[Woodrow, the White House Mouse]ITL.) Woodrow signs the bill at the Resolute Desk, a special desk used by many presidents over the years. It was built from the oak timbers of the British ship ITL[Resolute]ITL. The desk was given as a present to President Hayes by Queen Victoria in 1880, after the stranded ship was recovered in the Arctic by American whalers and returned to England.
For more information on the Capitol, contact the office of your representative or senator, or the U.S. Capitol Historical Society in Washington, D.C.
How a Bill Becomes a Law
The idea for a bill can come from many places: from a letter from a second grade class; from a voter; from a member of the House or Senate; or from someone who works on a member's staff. But once the research is done, the bill can be introduced only by a member of Congress. The bill is first referred to a committee, a smaller group of members who specialize in the issue that is addressed in the proposed legislation--the House Ways and Means Committee, for example, specializes in taxes, health care, trade, welfare and Social Security. But the committee usually refers the bill to an even smaller group, a subcommittee, for close review. The subcommittee or full committee will hold hearings on the bill, taking testimony or other input from experts, the administration, interest groups and the public. Once the hearings are completed, the bill is "marked up" with changes and amendments. Then the bill is "reported out" of committee if it is approved by a majority of members. The bill is then put on the chamber calendar for debate and voting. Each bill must be approved by both chambers, often twice. The first time, each chamber usually votes on its own version of the bill. Then members from the House and Senate meet in a "conference committee" to negotiate the differences. Once they do, the bill is returned to each chamber for final approval and sent to the president, who can sign or veto it. If vetoed, a bill can still become a law with,a two-thirds vote of Congress. For more information on how bills become laws, contact the office of your representative or senator.