Mice are apparently way way smarter than we humans have ever guessed. They’ve always been smart but since the beginning of the computer age they have absorbed a lot of knowledge from hanging out in human homes and listening to human engineers and computer scientists. The Mouse Nation has reached the point of developing an entire virtual world, including a Mouse version of Facebook and Email and Google. The problem is that it takes multiple mice hours to surf the net because they have to work as a team using a system of pulleys to navigate their way around the keyboard. Imagine their delight when a human inventor creates a tiny computer (the Thumbtop) just for fun. The inventor gives it to his niece Megan and the mice immediately devise a plan to make contact with Megan (a historic first interspecies contact) and enlist her assistance in getting a “thumbtop to every mousehole”.
The premise of this new middle grade book is very clever. There is a lot to like. Interwoven into the main story is Megan’s story. Megan is a kid who has grown up on an island with her climate-change researcher mother. She’s been homeschooled (!) but now she has to move in with her Dad and his new wife and adjust to life in a new school where the kids all think she’s weird. (Her mother is on a job in the outback of Australia).
David picked this book to be his special bedtime book. It was fairly obvious to me early on that he was too young for it. Nothing was inappropriate for him to hear but a lot of the details of computers and climate change (a major part of the plot) and even older kids in school were unfamiliar to him. However, he stubbornly insisted that we continue. He liked a lot of the scenes with the mice and overall liked the book but there were also times when he was clearly bored.
In the end, I also found it a little boring. The climate change theme is somewhat heavy-handed and I got tired of feeling lectured at. It was also hard to relate to the characters. The human characters are somehat two-dimensional. There were some subplots dealing with Megan’s relationship with her stepmother but they felt forced and unrealistic. And finally, most annoying to me, I couldn’t figure out why the mice who are supposed to be able to do amazing things due to their teamwork and presence all over the globe couldn’t just make their own Thumbtops. A main part of the story is that the mice eventually help Megan reverse climate change. I kept thinking, “Really? They can do that but not make a computer?”
That’s a fairly negative review which may not be entirely fair. It was an ok book, just not a great one. And to be fair, the reviews on Amazon are all glowing. I’m apparently in the minority.
Other children’s fiction with mice:
Secrets at Sea by Richard Peck
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien
The Mouse and the Motorcycle (and sequels) by Beverly Cleary
Tumtum and Nutmeg by Emily Bearn
The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
The Library Mouse books by Daniel Kirk