Elena Ferrante’s children’s book The Beach at Night has magic, danger, and adventure, with scary episodes and somewhat raunchy language not usually found in a children’s book. Never fear, the story does have a happy ending. Best known for her anonymity and her Neopolitan novel series, Ferrante weaves a simple but dark story, reminiscent of the original Grimm fairy tales, about a doll left behind at the beach.
When her father presents the little girl with a cat named Minu, the little doll finds herself abandoned and forgotten. She is tortured by a mean beach attendant and his rake as they scavenge the night beach for bits of treasure left behind. Although the main villain is the snarly Mean Beach Attendant of Sunset, the Rake, Fire, and Waves from the Ocean are personified and join in, as the poor doll tries to hang on.
Although the book is listed for children, the illustrations reminded me of Tim Burton caricatures – whimsically scary. The subtexts of mother-daughter relationships, as well as the horrors of a deserted beach and the stealing of words out one’s mouth, seem targeted more for an adult audience. Adults, especially fans of Ferrante will enjoy the book, but beware – read it yourself first to decide if you want to share it with your young ones.
When a Newbery Medalist and a Caldecott Medalist get together to produce a children’s book, you know you are in for a good one. Lois Lowry and Eric Rohmann collaborated on Bless This Mouse – the tale of a church mouse who leads her followers to safe haven.
Hildegarde, the mouse mistress of St. Bartholomew’s Church, not only protects her flock of over 200 church mice but she also manages to educate them and the reader with lessons on the correct vocabulary for different sections of the church building – the narthex, transept, nave. Rohmann conveniently includes a graphic for reference, and her resident scholar mouse, Ignatius, a former university library mouse, delivers important research information on the latest mousetraps – scented glue.
When a group of adolescent mice run wild in plain sight of the sacristy ladies, Father Murphy decides to call the exterminator. Hildegarde’s preventative measures include eating the telephone book so he won’t have the phone number, but the mice mistakenly look for “the Great X” under “x” instead of “ex,” and they are forced to evacuate in the great “exodus” to the church cemetery to wait until the church is safe to reenter.
Lowry humorously personifies her characters with human foibles and misplaced pride, and includes a reconnaissance mission with 52 mice carrying 52 playing cards to disarm the glue traps. She neatly wraps up the narrative with Father Murphy’s blessing of the animals, including Hildegarde, on the feast of St. Francis – with a lively negotiation between the mouse leader and the priest at the end.
With Lowry’s narrative and Rohmann’s illustrations, Bless This Mouse is a winning combination – a good book to read aloud – and definitely one that will make you laugh out loud.