Hermelin the Detective Mouse

  • Author/illustrator: Mini Grey
  • Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf               Pub date: 2013 (first U.S. edition 2014)
  • Intended for: Ages 5 to 8
  • Perfect for: Anyone who loves lots of details to pore over. Anyone who likes a good underdog story.

Hermelin cover

I’ve probably said this a few times already, but what I love so much about the current picture book market is the extremely wide variety of stories and art styles being published. I am interested in so many different kinds of books and that is due to the fact that authors, illustrators, and publishers are putting out such fresh, new work.

While I loved Sleepover with Beatrice & Bear for its spare, light artwork, I’m loving Hermelin the Detective Mouse for the complete opposite reason—because its pages are full and busy and chock full of action and details.

The story wastes no time—it starts right on the title page, as Hermelin, our mouse protagonist, is dropped out of a truck and into a bustling neighborhood. There’s not even a copyright page, as that info works as a posting on the “Notices” board on the back cover.

Readers get a peak into each apartment, seeing all the good and bad that is going on.

Hermelin interior 1Hermelin is a special mouse in that once he found an attic to stow away in, he saw an old typewriter and he knew he could “write” with it because his paws started tingling once he was near it.

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As an inquisitive mouse, he can’t help but take an interest in all of his neighbors, especially since they all need some assistance, as evidenced by the Lost, Vanished, and Missing notices posted on the community bulletin board.

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He solves all of the mysteries and notifies his neighbors of where their lost items are with typewritten notes. None of them knows who Hermelin is, but they want to thank him because he’s the hero of the street.

The neighbors put together a party for the hero, but once he arrives, they only see him for his outward appearance—just a mouse—and not for the hero detective he is.

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Hurt and scared, Hermelin wants to leave, but a kind young girl who also has a penchant for solving mysteries reaches out to him and welcomes him into her life and together they can solve any mystery.

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Hermelin is a wonderful protagonist because he’s aware, as a mouse, that he’s special. He can type! He can solve mysteries! And the fact that one of the people in the neighborhood comes to his rescue and reaffirms his status as someone who is pretty distinctive is such a good way to end the story. I like that the girl doesn’t rescue him because she pities him, but rather because she wants to work with him and solve mysteries.

The amount of detail in the artwork begs kids to spend a good deal of time with this book. They’ll love rereading it and going along with Hermelin on his adventures. Highly recommended.

Sleepover with Beatrice & Bear

  • Author/illustrator: Mônica Carnesi
  • Publisher: Penguin Young Readers/Nancy Paulsen         Pub date: 2014
  • Intended for: Ages 3 to 5
  • Perfect for: Anyone looking for a fun friendship book. Anyone who loves a sweet book.

Sleepover with Beatrice cover

Some books are best described as just plain sweet. Sleepover with Beatrice & Bear is sweet in both its storytelling and its artwork. It’s the cover image that made me pick the book up. I love the idea of a bunny and a bear having a sleepover (especially when the bunny has an adorable carrot blanket and toothbrush with her).

The illustration note says the art was created in “brush and Winsor & Newton black india ink with Sennelier and Winsor & Newton artist watercolors and Prismacolor pencils on Fabriano Artistico extra white 140lb hot pressed paper.” To be honest, I didn’t know what most of that meant and had to Google a good deal of it to understand what the tools were, but I absolutely LOVE that publishers add this information to most picture books now. What a great way for readers to learn how books are made! Years ago readers had to guess the medium(s) artists used for their work. I love this kind of progress in picture book publishing.

The story is all about a bunny named Beatrice who comes across Bear one fine spring day. The two become inseparable and they play together all spring, summer and fall. Then winter comes and Bear disappears.

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Beatrice learns that Bear is doing what bears do during winter—he’s hibernating! Since Beatrice loves being with Bear so much, she decides to give this hibernating thing a try.

With a suitcase packed with essentials for a sleepover, Beatrice finds where Bear is resting, and tries and tries to sleep, but she’s just not tired.

Sleepover with Beatrice interior 4Sleepover with Beatrice interior 5

Then Beatrice has a great idea—documenting what happens during the winter so Bear will be able to see what he’s missing while hibernating. Once spring arrives, Beatrice presents Bear with a lovely scrapbook of winter fun. So sweet!

Sleepover with Beatrice interior 6Sleepover with Beatrice interior 7

The story has a warm feel to it, mostly because Beatrice’s affection for Bear (and vice versa) comes through so well both in the text and artwork. Her enthusiasm for life and playing is strong and it offsets Bear’s more calm personality nicely. Carnesi’s art style works just perfectly for this story. She has a light touch to her work but it doesn’t lessen the impact in any way. A beautifully sweet story. Highly recommended.

Children Make Terrible Pets

  • Author/illustrator: Peter Brown
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company                   Pub date: 2010
  • Intended for: Ages 4 to 7
  • Perfect for: Children and adults of all ages.

Children Make Terrible Pets cover

There’s always a picture book that slips through the cracks, one that I never got around to reading even though I’d heard great things about it. Children Make Terrible Pets is on that list. This lovely book came out in 2010 and I am just now reading it. While I wish I had read it sooner, I’m at least happy to have found it—better late than never.

As with any Peter Brown book, there is so much to like. In this story, I like that he approaches the idea of pets in a new fashion, turning owner and pet on their heads.  Lucy is an exuberant young female bear and Squeaker is a little boy she finds and wants to keep as a pet. Her parents have warned her in the past that children don’t make good pets—in fact, they’re terrible as pets—but Lucy doesn’t want to hear it. She’s just too excited to have found squeaker and is taken by the fact that he is adorable.

Children Pets interior 1

At first, Lucy has a great time with Squeaker. They play together, nap together, and eat together.

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But after the initial glow of ownership wears off, Lucy realizes that Squeaker does have some downfalls. He’s hard to potty train. He is also rambunctious and causes all sorts of trouble in Lucy’s household.

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She’s at the end of her rope until Squeaker disappears. She searches high and low for him and finally comes upon him at none other than his house. Turns out he has a family of his own and Lucy realizes that the best thing to do is to allow him to go back to his family.

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Peter Brown never disappoints when it comes to interesting artwork and I love that about him. This book is so fun to look at because of the different techniques he uses to tell his stories. The illustrator’s note at the back of the book says the illustrations in the book were “rendered in pencil on paper, with cut construction paper and wood and a wee bit of digital tweaking.” The cut construction paper as a background for the text (as as text balloons) works splendidly in this book because it makes the text really stand out on the page (as does the shadow added to the construction paper—the text jumps off the page like it’s 3-D), it adds a great deal of color to the page, and I think it adds a nice design element to the book.

To my eye, the wood he uses as the background to the illustrations makes each page look like an image on an old console TV screen, or an old photo. The rounded corners and slightly faded edges of the ivory background also helps evoke that old-time feel to the images. Brown has certainly crafted a beautiful book that kids (and adults) will likely want to read again and again, but the package as a whole will keep them coming back as well. Highly recommended.