Word of Mouse, by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein – book review by Fred Patten.

by Patch O'Furr

Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.

Word of Mouse, by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein. Illustrated by Joe Sutphin.
NYC, Little, Brown and Co./Jimmy Patterson Books, December 2016, hardcover $13.99 (284 [+ 6] pages), Kindle $9.99.

(See an animated TV ad for the book.)

This children’s fantasy, recommended for 8- to 12-year-old readers (middle grade/grades 3-7), will be too young for most DP readers. But it’s a quick and enjoyable read for those who liked Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of N.I.M.H. – the novel by Robert C. O’Brien, rather than the Don Bluth animated movie that turned it into a fairy tale.

James Patterson is a writing machine. He holds the Guinness World Records for the most #1 New York Times best sellers and the first author to sell over 1,000,000 e-books. He has topped Forbes’ list of the highest-paid authors for the last three years. Wikipedia lists 164 books by him, alone and with a co-author. He has written adult mysteries, thrillers, and romance novels, and young adult and juvenile light school-life novels and science-fiction. His adult thrillers featuring Alex Cross, police psychologist, are by himself alone, and most of his others are in collaboration. Chris Grabenstein is a frequent co-author on his children’s novels. Word of Mouse is their first fantasy featuring talking animals.

The narrator is Isaiah, a mouse:

“My story starts on the day I lost my entire family. I’m running as fast as I can behind my big brothers and sisters. Down the hall. Past the mop bucket. Toward the open door.

We’re escaping from a place that’s foul and creepy and 100 percent HORRIBLE!” (p. 1)

Isaiah is the only mouse who escapes without being recaptured. What makes Word of Mouse of interest to furry fans is that it’s quickly apparent that Isaiah and his siblings are experimental lab mice. Isaiah is bright blue, Abe is crimson, Winnie is chartreuse, and all 97 of them are different colors. But this is just Lamina Research Laboratory’s color-coding. What’s inherent in Isaiah and his siblings are that they’re unusually intelligent, can see in color instead of just black and white, and probably have human life spans instead of a mouse’s usual one to two years.

Isaiah, having been raised around scientists (Lamina is a leader in genetic engineering), knows big words that apply to mice like crepuscular and tenebrous, and can read.

“Did you know that the word mouse supposedly came from the Sanskrit word mus, which means thief? Now, I don’t typically think of myself as a thief. I’ve never taken anything that wasn’t freely given to me. I never had to.

But scurrying through Suburbia, a stranger in a strange land, I realize I might not have much of a choice. No Long Coat is going to come along and toss me my daily scoop of crunchy kibble.” (p. 19)

Isaiah has to learn to avoid suburban predators like cats, dogs, and hawks, and to scrounge like normal mice. His adventures turn from juvenile science-fiction into fantasy as he meets a big family of mice (a mouse family is a mischief) and they can all talk together, although Isaiah knows a lot more than they do. Isaiah develops a romance with a pert girl mouse, Mikayla, and finds that her mischief living in the Brophys’ house is much larger than usual because the Brophys are all slobs who leave half-eaten sandwiches and dropped snacks in all the rooms. He saves them from mousetraps.

“Gwindell twitches her snout. ‘Mmmm. This box smells delicious, too!’

‘No!’ I shout. ‘Don’t go in there!’

‘Why not? It smells so peanut buttery.’ She lunges for the brown box, and I dive to block her.

‘It’s a mousetrap!’ I holler, reading what is written on the side of the cardboard mouse coffin. ‘The floor is covered with glue, and they’ve baited it with peanut butter. If you go in, you’ll never come out!’ Gwindell and her brothers examine the box carefully.” (pgs. 72-73)

He also makes friends with the human girl across the street, twelve-year-old Hailey. She can’t hear him when he talks because his voice is both too soft and in the ultrasonic range, but he jumps around on her computer keyboard like thefictional archy the cockroach did on a typewriter.

But while Isaiah has it made, for a mouse, he wants to rescue his own brothers and sisters who have been locked up back in Lamina Lab’s cages. Which he does, with the help of Mikayla and her mischief, and Hailey.

For those who like Disney-style art, there are attractive full-page or half-page illustrations by Joe Sutphin throughout the book.

My only complaint is with the prejudicial depiction of the lab’s research staff (and by implication, all scientists) as cold and unfeeling at best, and as sadists at worst; constantly sneering, sniggering, and smirking. When Dr. Ledbetter finds out that his lab mice have human-level intelligence, his reaction is to threaten to immediately dissect them instead of studying their intelligence:

“‘It’s good to see you again, B-97. My colleagues tell me that you recently demonstrated some rather unusual talents. Ones I did not know I had given you. I can’t wait to open you up and see what’s going on inside that tiny little blue brain of yours.’” (p. 260)

Word of Mouse (jacket design by Tracy Shaw, featuring one of Joe Sutphin’s illustrations) is good fun for furry fans; and, it goes without saying, as gifts for any young nieces or nephews, and for their own children when they have families. There are paperback, Audible, and audio CD versions, too.

– Fred Patten

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