Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Book Review #11: Mousenet

This month's book review is a very interesting animal fantasy called, Mousenet by Prudence Breitrose.  I happened to spy it while walking through my library, and the cover won me over at first sight!  Here's the summary blurb of the book:

When ten-year-old Megan helps her uncle invent the Thumbtop, the world’s smallest computer, mice are overjoyed, and they want one for every mouse hole.

The Big Cheese, leader of the Mouse Nation, has orders: follow that girl—even if it means high-tailing it to Megan’s new home on the other side of the country. While Megan struggles as the new girl, the mice wait for their chance. But when they tell Megan the biggest secret in the history of the world—mice have evolved, and they need her help—she isn’t sure anyone will believe her. With all of Mouse Nation behind her, Megan could become the most powerful girl alive, but just how will she create a Thumptop for every mouse?

This is a very adorable and unique read.  If you haven't guessed by now, I'm a sucker for rodent books, especially ones with cute little mice!  Breitrose's mice are different, though, in the fact that they live in an educated society and have evolved to be tiny geniuses.  I enjoyed this story from start to finish, but what really stood out were Breitrose's rodent culture and the way her mice communicate throughout the tale.

I've noticed that animal cultures have recently been a common topic in my animal fantasy book reviews.  They're just so important, though, in bringing the fantasy world to life and making readers connect to the characters.  Breitrose's mice are tidy, clean, and careful, taking great measures not to be noticed and not to make people say, "Eeek!"  Dubbed as the "modern mouse," they travel by Greyhound bus and take along plastic baggies for their poop.  But that's not all.  As part of the Mouse Nation, they also grow up with a thorough education, including a sound foundation in useful topics like "Human Expressions."  After studying computer programming in Silicon Valley, they even have their own online community with websites such as Whiskerpedia and MouseBook.  Each part of the mouse culture Breitrose creates is so fascinating and cute, and it makes you wonder if mice really do check their email when we're not around!

The mouse communication goes hand-in-hand (er, I mean paw-in-paw) with the culture.  In most animal fantasies, the animals just speak verbally like humans.  This is not always the case in Mousenet.  There are a few mice who speak like Talking Mouse 3 (aka TM3 or Trey), but most of them "talk" via sign language.  Then how the heck do readers understand them, you may ask?  Well, the narrator translates many of their actions, whether it be a curved tail in the shape of a question mark, or a paw held to the mouth for "LOL."  The few talking mice also translate for the non-speaking ones, usually with funny commentary.  If this sounds like a recipe for clunky or difficult dialogue, it's really not, and adds an extra bit of fun to the story.  Additionally, the mice type, so a lot of their communication is relayed in email form.  (And it's so adorable how they type as a team on big-people computers!)  If you're interested in finding alternative ways to get your animal characters talking, you should definitely see how Breitrose accomplishes this feat!

All in all, Mousenet is a fun, whimsical read.  And to top it all off, there are charming illustrations, too!  If you like animal fantasies of the fuzzy rodent variety, then you won't be disappointed with this book.  And if you write animal fantasy stories, then Mousenet certainly has a lot of elements to study.  By the time you're done reading, I bet you'll wish mice had their own tiny laptops, too!

You can read more about Breitrose and her mice at: www.mousenet.org.  And if you read this book, do let me know.  I'd love to hear what you think!

Can't wait to read the sequel when it comes out in 2013!  Happy reading!

Note: The summary blurb is from barnesandnoble.com.  The jacket illustration is (c) Stephanie Yue.     

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