Dick King-Smith’s The School Mouse
Illus. Cynthia Fisher
Hyperion, 1995

The School Mouse is one of the books chosen by Shireen Dodson in her book 100 Books for Girls to Grow Ona list that I’ve been pulling from since 2008. It seemed the perfect choice for September: Back-to-School. And that’s just what it was.

Flora is born in a hole in the wall of a kindergarten classroom, one of ten mouse babies to her mother, Hyacinth. It’s clear early on that Flora is not like the other mice. To begin with, she is smarter. The other mice hope to catch leftover crumbs after the caretakers have cleaned, whereas Flora learns the order in which the rooms are cleaned and beats the caretakers to them.

But what truly sets Flora apart? She is inquisitive. And that’s what leads her to learn to read, over the teacher’s shoulder, crouched in her nest in the classroom wall.

The other mice are mystified, not only by her ability but by her interest. It’s uncommon for mice to care about the affairs of humans. Flora is a rare mouse indeed. She is not only learned and intelligent; she is also ambitious, compassionate, and she shows initiative and determination.

And what sets The School Mouse apart from the multitude of cutesy-animal-stories? A sense of fun alongside Dick King-Smith’s compassionate story-telling. The novel’s wordplay actually made me laugh out loud at one point (I won’t spoil that bit), and there were lots of soundless smirks and chuckles as I turned the pages.

This is a terrific chapter-book to encourage the newly-independent reader, with just enough pictures to act as rewards but not so many that it no longer feels like a chapter book. But the wordplay would make this a fun story to read aloud.

For instance, Hyacinth has a propensity for naming her brood alliteratively. Her second litter is comprised of Lily, Lilac, Lotus, Lupin, Lobelia, Laburnum, Larkspur, Lavender, and Love-in-a-Mist. And when Flora asks another mouse why he is named Buck, he replies: “Because I was the only boy among six of us. She gave my five sisters pretty names, but she just called me Buck, and Buck has stuck, worse luck.” (59) It’s good fun!

This was my first Dick King-Smith story but it did make me want to read more.

Have you read something of his? Were you one of those kids who loved animal stories?

Companion Reads: Sam Savage’s Firmin (for adults, a tale of a rat whose love of letters also mystified his family and friends), Kate diCamillo’s The Tale of Despereaux, Avi’s Poppy series (which begins with Ragweed) and Beatrix Potter’s Mrs. Tittlemouse.