Assuaging the anxieties of one first-time student is tough enough, let alone seven. In this story, first published in Japan in 1981, an industrious mouse mother hatches a plan for getting her septuplets to school, rolling out two lines of yarn along the path through the woods. In the morning, she announces, "All aboard!" and the seven curious mice line up, with the yarn becoming the train tracks. Along the way, the "Mouse Train" picks up more "passengers," and the mice even scare off a snake. This story about finding creative solutions unfolds with understated elegance—and for a 30-year-old story, it holds up. Ages 3–up. (July)
Children's Literature - Michele C. Hughes
Seven adorable miceseptupletsprepare for their first day of school in this sweet story that can help young readers with their anxiety about new experiences. Although Mother has equipped them with new hats, book bags and shoes, her seven little mice resist the first day of school with every excuse from cold wind to bullies to snakes on the path. But Mother is creative. While the mice are sleeping, she rolls out two balls of yarn to make a track through the forest. The next morning, the school "train" departs, with Mother leading the little mice along the track she has created, complete with her chugging, tooting train sounds to delight them. When the group meets a dreaded wriggly snake, it turns out he is more afraid of the mouse train than they are of him. With mostly two-page spreads, the softly colored illustrations provide a lot of visual interest, and the mice are incredibly cute in their smallness. A two-page fold-out section punctuates the climax in the dark tunnel, where the scary snake and the mouse train have a tense encounter. Strength in community is a distinct theme in the resolution of this book. Young readers will likely identify with fears about the first day of school, and the ability of the mice to overcome their worst fear will in turn help readers with their anxiety. Reviewer: Michele C. Hughes
School Library Journal
K-Gr 2—Mama Mouse has seven little mice who are about to start school. Even though she has outfitted them in new hats, shoes, and book bags, the septuplets are reluctant to go. They worry that school is too far away, they will be too sleepy, there will be bullies, or they might encounter a snake on the way. Clever Mama gets an idea. The night before the big day she takes two blue balls of yarn and makes a path through the forest all the way to school. The next morning she announces, "All aboard! The train for school is leaving now!" and makes her way on the path. The children eagerly pick up on the game and follow along, holding on to one another's tails. When the Mouse Train goes through a tunnel, Mama Mouse and the children encounter a snake. It is as surprised as the mice and slithers away in fright. By now, many more mice youngsters have joined the train and Mama marches everyone off to school. The pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations perfectly complement the story. The mice are all individualized with gently humorous details and the palette is appropriate for the woodland setting. The scene in the tunnel with the snake is dark and ominous. This clever take on the afraid-to-go-to-school theme should have broad appeal.—Ieva Bates, Ann Arbor District Library, MI
This delicate Japanese import is less about assuaging school fears than about a tricky mother who gets her children to go to school against their many and varied protests.
It is the day before school starts, and the septuplets ("like twins only there are seven") are all ready for school with new hats, bags and shoes. But Mother must face the fact that her children do not want to go to school. They'll be too tired, the wind will be too cold, they'll meet a snake and they won't know anyone; these are among their many excuses. Cleverly, Mother plans for the morning by unwinding two balls of yarn, making parallel lines that stretch from home all the way to school. She is unruffled when the children ignore her announcement that it is time for school—she just calmly steps out, stands between the strings and announces that the school train is departing. This piques the kids' interest, and they are out of the house in no time, following along. But will some of their fears come true? This episode is a rather disappointing departure from the septuplets' previous adventure, in which they were the ones to solve the problem (Mice at the Beach, 1987). Iwamura's precise, softly colored illustrations, while adorable, add little narrative heft to the slight story.
Some students may jump on the train to act this out on the first day of school, but it lacks the humor that would give it lasting appeal. (Picture book. 3-5)