Debatables, Uncategorized

Debatables: The Most Appealing Mouse

Welcome once again to Debatables, the monthly column where esoteric kid-lit questions are argued with way too much passion. (Last month, I was unable to fulfill my Debatables duties, so I’d like to thank my debate substitute, the great and wonderful Jilanne Hoffmann, who won the battle hands down.)

My Debatables sparring opponent is, as usual, my colleague, friend, and collegial frenemy, Cricket Muse.

Here are the Debatables ground rules:

Each debater is allowed one brief argument (fewer than 300 words) on a previously agreed-upon topic. These brief arguments will then be followed by a briefer rebuttal (fewer than 150 words).

This month’s debate is near and dear to my pro-rodent (prodent) heart.

To celebrate my upcoming picture book, Scampers Thinks Like a Scientist (Preorder it now!), Cricket and I have decided on a mousey topic:

Who Is The Most Appealing Mouse In Middle Grade Fiction?

I chose the inimitable Amos from Ben and Me.

And Cricket chose Reepicheep, the warrior mouse from the Narnia series.

So! Let’s get started.

***

Mike: American history wouldn’t have been the same without Amos. The eldest of 25 siblings, Amos demonstrates his admirable character traits from the outset by selflessly volunteering to leave the comforts of home to provide for his hungry family. He soon meets Benjamin Franklin (by way of Benjamin Franklin’s comfortable fur hat) and demonstrates his worth almost immediately by inventing the Franklin stove.

Franklin is, of course, dazzled and negotiates a contractually bound creative partnership that promises a bountiful, lifetime supply of cheese, wheat, and rye for Amos’s family.

As for Amos’s end of the bargain, the mouse agreed to impart a lifetime’s worth of wisdom. Declaration of Independence? Amos suggested most of it. Electricity? Amos endured a series of cruel and unusual electrical experiments.

Not cool, Ben. Not cool at all!

And—according to the Disney cartoon—Amos also invented bifocals.

Amos never failed to help out a fellow mouse. Toward the end of the book, when Franklin was wasting time canoodling with some French hotties, Amos led a palace attack to rescue the imprisoned children of a white mouse named Sophia. (Amos’s actions, by the way, were not born out of amorous desire, for he also reunited Sophia with her lawfully wedded husband.)

Time and time again Amos proved himself to be kind, creative, brave, inventive, patriotic, altruistic, and fiercely devoted to both man and mice.

I cannot even begin to imagine a personality that could be more appealing.

 

Cricket Muse: Mike, for a writer guy of great imagination, how did you manage to overlook Reepicheep? “Here then is a mouse, when can there be such another?” I throw that paraphrased quote in there because Reepicheep is an incredibly appealing mouse. No mouse can be more appealing than this gentle warrior. Take a look at his vitae:

  • Chief Talking Mouse of Narnia
  • Concerned with honor
  • Descendent of the mice who freed Aslan from the Stone Table
  • Fights willingly for friends and good causes
  • Veteran of glorious battles
  • Tamer of dragons
  • Well-read, has a home library
  • Excellent sword skills
  • Fearless–sought to fulfill the prophecy to find the “utter East,” Aslan’s country
  • Adventurer–sailed with Prince Caspian.
  • Made a knight of the Most Noble Order of the Lion
  • Skilled chess player
  • Storyteller
  • Befriends the unloved and miserable, as in boys turned into dragons

This is a Renaissance mouse. He is well-spoken, elegant of manner, knowledgeable, respected by kings and queens, a skilled fighter, and is so revered that the other mice were willing to lop off their own tails when Reep lost his in battle. Aslan recognizing the fierce devotion of Reepicheep’s followers, restored his tail. It is no stretch to say that Reepicheep is one of Narnia’s most memorable AND appealing characters. He is a mouse among mice.

One of Reepicheep’s endearing qualities is his ability to set aside his pride and accept a hug.

All in all? Reepicheep is one heckuva mouse. No hat hiding for this mouse. He is out and about shaping history and not having to hide behind anybody’s name because he makes his own fame.

 

Mike’s Rebuttal: You are being disingenuous, Cricket. Amos is not “hiding behind anyone’s name.” He is just a humble mouse with humble needs. He has no lust for fame or fortune. And he certainly isn’t vain enough to pester a Jesus figure for a replacement tail.

As for bravery, Amos is every bit as heroic as your candidate, perhaps more so. After all, Reepicheep is two feet tall (!), is always wielding a sword, and leads a standing army; Amos is just a little mouse with a big heart.

And let’s not forget that Amos is a fine writer, contributing to the historical record by penning his memoirs on eensy teensy scraps of paper. A mouse of letters is a very appealing thing indeed!

In my opinion, there are no bad rodents. Reepicheep is certainly worthy of great respect and hugs. But Amos is the more appealing.

 

Cricket’s Rebuttal: Mike, there is one glaring fault to your argument. If Amos is so great, then why was he only known to Ben? Humility plays no part in this. Amos never spoke with any other human in his time with Mr. Franklin. This gives ponderment as to whether Amos is merely a figment of Ben’s ample imagination. On the other hand, Reepicheep, warrior, true, but one with a gentle heart, was known to all, and left a deep impression upon all who encountered him. Honored by Aslan, befriended by a dragon, knighted by a king, and loved by MILLIONS of readers, Reepicheep is a mouse of the MOST appealing nature. As for the tail comment, tsk, Mike. You might have alienated loyal Narnia followers with that one. As I recall your Amos did his share of fighting–ruined a good party, and Ben’s popularity with the French. Some nice mouse.

***

And that’s the debate—which is a shame since Cricket’s rebuttal NEEDS a factual response. But, hey, that’s what the comments are for!

So! Who won the debate? Do you have an appealing mouse candidate who wasn’t mentioned here? Leave a comment! We wanna hear from you!

On Writing

In Case You’re Wondering…

A couple of people have asked me why I changed my blog avatar to an illustration of a cute, widdle mouse peeking through the grass.

Oh, I have my reasons.

This illustration (by the incomparable artist Elizabeth Zechel) is a detail from a larger illustration.

Click to enlarge. Cuz you should! It’s purty!

And that illustration appears in the soon-to-be-released picture book, Scampers Thinks Like a Scientist!

It’s educational AND funny!

And, yes! You can preorder it here in either hardcover or paperback.

Family and/or Autobiography

A Mouse Divided

Hiya!
How can you not love me?

I’ve written a great deal on this blog about how much I like cute little rodents. Over the course of my life, I’ve owned three gerbils, one fancy rat, one sewer rat, and an adorably blorpy guinea pig named Pig.

I also sometimes run a mouse hotel.

This has led Jilanne Hoffmann – one of my more smart-alecky blog followers – to suggest that my pro rodent (“prodent”) views must be the result of some sort childhood trauma.

Well, Jilanne, you’re right. Thanks so much for forcing me to dredge up my past. I hope you’re happy!

Sigh. Well, I might as well tell all of you what happened.

***

My story takes place in the summer of 1979. I was eight.

When I was young, I loved to sleep over at my maternal grandparents’ house. In retrospect this is kind of strange thing for me to love. Yes, both Grandma and Grandpa were very nice to me (and neither thought twice about plying me with ice cream) but there was also a lot of tension in that house. My grandparents didn’t have a marriage that one would describe as “happy.”

Actual dialogue between my grandparents:

Grandpa
(Entering the kitchen:)
So! What’s for dinner?

Grandma
Poison.

I usually stayed overnight at their house by myself, but on this occasion, my six-year-old cousin, Jason, was there, too. This was great, for it was the middle of summer and my grandparents’ pool was always more fun when there was someone else to swim with.

Shortly after my Mom dropped me off, Jason and I were taking turns doing cannonballs off the diving board when I came up with my brilliant idea: I had noticed that the pool’s water level was about ten inches below the topmost edge. To my eight-year-old brain this was kind of a bummer.

“I got an idea!” I shouted to Jason. “Let’s fill up the pool to the very, very top!”

My plan was simple. We would get some buckets and go into the house. We would fill the buckets up in the bathroom sink, go back outside, and dump the water into the pool. We would then repeat these actions until the pool was completely full. Easy peasy mac ‘n’ cheesy.

There were a couple of problems with the plan, of course – the first of which is that all pools have pumps to regulate water levels. But even if that machinery didn’t exist, it would have still taken a few thousand gallons to raise a pool’s water level 10 inches. That’s a lot of trips to Grandma’s bathroom.

I had no grasp of these problems. The only problem I could discern was that there was only one bucket in the dilapidated shed that held the pool toys. But this didn’t faze me. I handed my cousin a toy tugboat. It had small holes in the top which allowed it to be filled with water. It was no bucket, but it would still help the pool-filling cause.

Happily wielding our water receptacles, we went into the house, leaving wet footprints in our wake. I filled up my bucket and turned to leave, expecting Jason to be a few steps behind me. Instead, he screamed like a banshee.

This was not part of the plan.

Little did either of us know, a mouse was living inside of the toy tugboat – and this mouse didn’t take too kindly to drowning. So, once water started gushing in it’s home, it leapt onto Jason’s shoulder just long enough to give a kid a coronary. Then the mouse scrambled into the kitchen and under the refrigerator.

Grandma was on the scene in an instant. She spotted me first. When she was agitated, she would mix up her grandchildren’s names. Without fail, she would start to call me Jason before switching gears in mid-word.

“Ja-Michael! What happened?”

But all I could do was shrug. I hadn’t seen the drama unfold.

She ran into the bathroom. I followed. There we found a paralyzed Jason – who was not quite paralyzed enough to not rat me out.

Grandma learned of my pool-filling idea. More importantly, she learned that because of my pool filling idea there was now a mouse hiding in her spotless kitchen.

To my surprise, she took the news in stride. Then she did something that was even more surprising, something I had never seen her do before or since: she sought out Grandpa.

As I mentioned earlier, Grandma and Grandpa did not get along. I learned just about every  curse word on the planet from Grandma; she used those words to describe Grandpa. I had grown up believing that those two old people had absolutely nothing, nothing, nothing in common.

But I was wrong. When it came to rodents, my grandparents were of one mind: the deader the better.

Grandpa, normally a pretty excitable fellow, was also shockingly sanguine upon hearing the news. He just nodded, hopped into his livingroom-on-wheels of a car, and glided down the street.

Ten minutes later he was back bearing mousetraps. I had never seen traps like these before. The traps my father used in our house were called “Hav-a-Hearts.” They kept the mice secure in a cage until they could be released into the wild.

My dad had this! This is a good trap.
My dad had this. This is a good trap.

Grandpa’s trap didn’t have a cage.

Grandpa gathered Jason and me to his side. “Let me show you boys how these work.” He was in Mr. Wizard mode.

With some effort he pulled back the metal bar and clicked it into place. He laid the trap flat on the kitchen table. Then he handed me a wooden spoon.

“See that spot?” he said, pointing to the trigger.

I nodded.

“I’m gonna put peanut butter there for our little friend. Now touch that with the spoon.”

I did.

And THWACK! The bar slammed down with such force it left a dent in the spoon. Grandpa smiled, I suppose he was expecting me to be delighted.

Grandpa had this. This is a bad trap.
Grandpa had this. This is a bad trap.

But I wasn’t delighted. I was shocked. Then I was furious.

“You’re not using that,” I said.

“Of course I’m using that,” he replied, a little bewildered. “You let a mouse into the house and we have to get rid of it.”

It was at about that point I became unglued. “No, no, no!”

“Wait a minute,” he said. “Settle down.”

“You can’t use that trap! You gotta use the other kind! The kind with the cage! The kind daddy uses!”

Then Grandma joined the conversation. “Knock it off, Ja-Michael! We’re not going to keep that thing in a cage!”

I could not believe my ears. Grandma was taking Grandpa’s side? Grandma never took Grandpa’s side! How could she take his side when less than an hour before she called him s***head? Had the world gone topsy turvy?

I was dumbstruck. My grandparents had joined forces to oppose me and I was powerless to stop them.

And it was all my fault! If it wasn’t for my stupid pool filling idea, that mouse would’ve lived his entire cute little life in a cute little toy tugboat. My God, he was like the main character in a picture book and my grandparents wanted to snap his spine in two!

So I did the only thing I could do under these terrible circumstances: I waved an accusing finger at them both. “If you use that, I’m going home!”

“Oh, stop it,” said Grandma. “Get an ice cream.”

“I mean it!” I screamed.

And I did mean it. I carried on like this until Grandma called Mom and told her to pick me up. My overnight trip to Grandma’s was no longer than two hours.

I didn’t say much on the car ride home. I was sick to my stomach; I was afraid of what Mom was going to do to me. Mom was the one who laid down the law in our house. I had stupidly brought a mouse into her parents’ house and then, when they attempted to deal with the problem, I screamed at them like a maniac. Maybe I had the math wrong, but I was pretty sure that was grounds for justifiable homicide.

I sat in the shadowy-est corner of the backseat. I tried to become invisible. Mom and I were quiet for a very, very long time.

She spoke first.

“What you did,” Mom said finally, “was very principled.”

That was it. As far as Mom was concerned, nothing more needed to be said. She knew how much I loved my pet gerbils. She got it.

My grandmother, on the other hand, didn’t get it. She never really got over it, either. For the rest of her life, she told that mouse story to anyone who would listen. The takeaway of the story was, “My grandson is nuts.”

But I never minded. In fact, when Grandma told the story, it filled me with a weird sense of pride. No, I wasn’t able to save that mouse. But that little guy didn’t die in vain. He radicalized my prodent beliefs — and for that I am forever grateful.