Family and/or Autobiography

Mouse Mindgames

Small fella, big brain!

I am pleased to report that, once again, our house is home to wee rodents, this time a pair of gerbils named Salt and Peppa.

Salt is the smaller of the two, clever, energetic, and mischievous. Peppa is more reserved, less social, and also mischievous.

Basically, if you own a rodent, you’re going to have to accommodate some degree of mischief.

Case in point: In 1970, my parents purchased their first home in the North Jersey suburbs, a modest, two-story fixer upper. My father wasn’t very good at fixing-upping, however, so he left the painting, hammering, and electrical stuff to Mom and searched out a task that was better suited to his unique set of skills.

When the house revealed itself to have a mouse problem, Dad was on the case.

He toddled to the hardware store to pick up a humane Havahart trap and borrowed an unused, dusty, rusty birdcage from Grandpa. Dad’s plan was simple. He would trap the mice in the Havahart and deposit them in the cage. Once the mice were all caught, he would take the cage to a wooded area some distance away and release them.

That night, Dad set the Havahart using peanut butter for bait. Then he fixed up the cage, stocking it with everything a mouse could ever want: plenty of food and water and high piles of shredded up newspaper to serve as bedding. (Dad was nothing if not a good host.)

Less than an hour later, the trap sprang shut. His first mouse! Dad deposited the critter into the cage. He covered the cage with a sheet (I’m not sure why that was necessary, exactly. For privacy, maybe?), got more peanut butter, reset the trap, and went to bed.

The next morning, Dad awoke to find a new mouse in the trap. He pulled back a corner of the sheet, put the new mouse in the cage, replaced the sheet, grabbed the peanut butter, and reset the trap. Late in the afternoon, the trap clattered shut yet again. Again, Dad pulled back a corner the sheet, deposited the new mouse in the cage with the other two mice, replaced the sheet, got out the peanut butter, and reset the trap.

And so it went. For days Dad caught mice and put them in the cage. He replenished the cage’s food and water supplies as needed. He also began to ask himself—with increasing alarm—Just how many freaking mice are in my house?!

The answer to his question was: one.

One mouse.

One mouse who really liked peanut butter.

This mouse liked peanut butter so much, he would escape the cage several times a day and get himself re-caught several times a day just so he could keep eating the Havahart’s bait.

The sheet draped over the cage was the means for his escape. The mouse had grabbed a corner of the sheet in his mouth and pulled it into the cage until the thin wire bars stretched apart wide enough for him to wriggle through.

The mouse—with help from Dad—had carved out a wonderful life for himself. He had complete freedom of movement, a safe comfortable place to sleep, and an endless supply of good food and water.

It was Mom who discovered the escape plan. When she did, she expelled what would be the first of several lifetimes’ worth of exasperated sighs. “How on earth,” she asked Dad, “did you not notice that there were no other mice in the cage?”

“I thought they were all hiding under the newspaper,” he replied sheepishly.

“It was at that moment,” Mom told me many years later, “I first realized that your father needs constant supervision.”

Mom was right, of course; Dad was not a guy one could leave alone with a task. But, to be fair, when a person engages in a battle of wits against a rodent, the smart money should always be on the wee one.

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!