The Mousewifeby Rumer Godden, William Pene du Bois
Day in and day out the dutiful mousewife works alongside her mousehusband in the house of Miss Barbara Wilkinson. It is a nice house and the mousewife is for the most part happy collecting crumbs and preparing a nest for her future mouse-babies—yet she yearns for something more. But what? Her husband, for one, can’t imagine. “I think about cheese,
Day in and day out the dutiful mousewife works alongside her mousehusband in the house of Miss Barbara Wilkinson. It is a nice house and the mousewife is for the most part happy collecting crumbs and preparing a nest for her future mouse-babies—yet she yearns for something more. But what? Her husband, for one, can’t imagine. “I think about cheese,” he advises her. “Why don’t you think about cheese?”
Then an odd and exotic new creature, a turtledove, is brought into the house and placed in a gilded cage. A friendship develops as the dove tells the mousewife about things no house mouse has ever imagined, blue skies, tumbling clouds, tall trees, and far horizons, the memory of which haunt the dove in her captivity. The dove’s tales fill the mousewife with wonder and inspire her to take daring action.
Rumer Godden’s lovely fable about unexpected friendship and bittersweet love was inspired by a story Dorothy Wordsworth wrote for her brother, William, and is accompanied by stunning pen-and-ink drawings by William Pène du Bois.
Meet the Author
Rumer Godden (1907–1998) grew up in India, where her father ran a steamship company. When her husband left her penniless in Calcutta with two daughters to raise, she started to write books to pay off her many debts. She wrote more than sixty books for adults and young adults, including The Doll’s House, Impunity Jane, The Greengage Summer, and An Episode of Sparrows (also published by The New York Review Children’s Collection).
William Pène du Bois (1916–1993) was born in New Jersey to a family of artists and educated mostly in France. A founding editor of The Paris Review, Pène du Bois wrote some twenty-five books, many of which he also illustrated, including The Twenty-One Balloons, winner of the 1948 Newbery Medal.
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This is beautiful, gentle tale will tug at your heartstrings. The story was inspired by Dorothy Wordsworth's (an English poet and diarist). It is a story composed for her brother William. An ordinary little mouse has seeds of wonder and dreams planted deep in her heart and she always in her mind reaches beyond the everyday, mundane rhyme of her life knowing there is much more beyond her mouse dreary mouse hole. "She looked the same; she had the same ears and prick nose and whiskers and dewdrop eyes; the same little bones and grey fur; the same skinny paws and long skinny tail. She did all the things a housewife does: she made a nest for the mouse babies she hoped to have one day; she collected crumbs of food for her husband and herself; once she bit the top off a whole bowl of crocuses; she played with the other mice at midnight on the attic floor. "What more do you want?" asked her husband. She did not know what it was she wanted, but she wanted more. " The little mousewife is constantly looking out the window, her little nose twitching against the windowpane, wondering about apple blossoms, bluebells and what lays beyond the woods. She and her husband are living in the house of spinster, Miss Barbara Wilkinson. Each day is the same with her daily routine of keeping house, stealing some crumbs to eat so they have meals, and running an efficient home for her husband. Then one morning everything changes. A boy brings a turtle dove that he caught in the woods to the mistress of the house. Happily the lady puts the dove in an elegant cage with gilt bars and serves him peas, lumps of sugar, and pieces of fat. Now the little mousewife is drawn to the dove's food. He refuses to eat it as he is crushed and heartbroken being caged up and he won't even drink the water. "- he said he did not like water. 'Only dew, dew, dew,' he said. 'What is dew?' asked the mousewife. "He could not tell her what dew was, but he told her how it shines on the leaves and grass in the early morning for doves to drink. That made him think of night in the woods and how he and his mate would come down with the first light to walk on the earth and peck for food, and of how, then, they would fly over the fields to other woods farther away." The dove and the mousewife strike up a friendship and she tries with all her might to nurture him and get him to partake of his food which he still refuses. Her crotchety old husband is not happy with her with all the time she spends away from him. "I do not like it. The proper place for a housewife is in her hole or coming out for crumbs and frolic with me. " The housewife did not answer. She looked far away." Her husband once bit her on the ear for coming home late and not fetching his food properly and arranging it to his satisfaction. Why should she even bother to think about apple blossoms and such silly things when she could be thinking of .... cheese? The mousewife has a nestful of babies so her first priority is to her young family and she is unable to visit the dove for quite some time. When she finally does she can't believe what she encounters and is truly shocked. The dove is weak and exhausted, his wings hang limply down because he thinks his close mouse friend has gone away forever and he has hardly eaten a morsel since she has left him. "He cowered over her with his wings and kissed her with his beak; she had not known his feathers were so soft or that his breast was so warm. 'I thought you were gone, gone, gone,' he said over and over again. "Tut! Tut!' said the housewife. ' A body has other things to do. I can't be always running off to you.' But, though she pretended to scold him, she had a tear at the end of her whisker for the poor dove." How could this very tiny but big-hearted creature help this poor trapped dove who was fading away and trapped in that gilded cage? Her dilemma being that she loved having him there with her to tell her of the world beyond thus fuelling her dreams. She has to make a hard decision, should she opt to set him free and not only lose a very close friend and the treats she could attain from him for her ever growing family? Setting him free means he can go back to his beloved mate and his wonderful world outside of the window? I think you can guess what she chose. I dreamer cannot help but make that choice and off he flew....out the open window...and gone! 'He has flown,' she said. "Now there is no one to tell me about the hills and the corn and the clouds. I shall forget them. How shall I remember when there is no one to tell me and there are so many children and crumbs and bits of fluff to think of?' She had millet tears, not on her whiskers but in her eyes. Although it grieved her greatly to do so she knew deep down in her heart of hearts that she did the right thing and as she witnesses his ascent into the sky she sees the seemingly shiny little brass buttons twinkling there... She knew now that they were not buttons but something far and big and strange. 'But not so strange to me,' she said,' for I have seen them myself,'said the mousewife, 'without the dove. I can see for myself,' said the housewife, and slowly, proudly, she walked back to bed. The story in enriched by the sketches and illustrations of William Pène du Bois. This truly is a timeless classic and I highly, highly recommend this book. It is another winner from the New York review Children's Collection.