“Once long ago, atop an ancient cathedral in France, there lived a small mouse who would NOT go to bed.” So begins “The Tooth Mouse” by Susan Hood and illustrated by Janice Nadeau. It is an enchanting and inspiring fable about an energetic little mouse named Sophie who loves to dance and whose dreams are much bigger than her diminutive frame might indicate.
Ms. Hood’s story is inspired by the French myth of “La Petit Souris” (literally “the little mouse”) who, like the tooth fairy, arrives at night to collect lost baby teeth. Sophie herself enjoys pretending that she is the Tooth Mouse, until one evening Sophie is drawn to a gathering in the great hall of the cathedral she calls home to find that the current “Petit Souris” is ready to name a successor. The Tooth Mouse assigns a series of challenging tasks in order to determine which of the many aspirants is worthy to succeed her. These tasks require bravery (retrieving the whisker of a cat), honesty (bringing a silver coin acquired without thievery), and wisdom (explaining to the Tooth Mouse what should be done with the thousands of baby teeth that are to be collected). Do all the applicants succeed? Mais non! It is only our little heroine, Sophie, who displays each of the requisite qualities – and “the small mouse who would NOT go to bed (spends) the rest of her nights as the Tooth Mouse.”
With French words and expressions sprinkled throughout, the book is written to be read aloud – preferably with a French accent for added fun. There is a certain poetry to Ms. Hood’s prose which is augmented by the French phrases and by Ms. Nadeau’s whimsical and expressive illustrations. Her drawings reminded us of the little Maileg mice that first arrived in our house in charming little matchbox homes, and have since expanded to what might qualify as an infestation. We have a little collection of them in the dining room, and mouse play is a frequent reading time activity.
In Ms. Hood’s story we appreciated the fact that Sophie must not only be brave, but honest and wise as well to earn her station. We were caught off guard by the elegant simplicity of Sophie’s solution for all those baby teeth, which we are told will be enough to fill the entire ocean. Her perseverance may be particularly inspiring to little listeners with big dreams, and the idea of a small mouse who would NOT go to sleep should resonate with little children while sounding familiar to their parents (we are intimately acquainted with the breed, having produced two ourselves). We were also struck, upon a little further reading, by the prevalence of the mouse-as-tooth-fairy concept in Spanish-speaking cultures where it is nearly ubiquitous and often referred to as Ratoncito Pérez or Ratón Pérez. Of course, upon announcing our discovery we were informed by our oldest that she was already aware of this fact from her immersion experience in Costa Rica.
This book was another wonderful discovery for us and further validation of our Storybook Year project. If you don’t already have a book lined up for Dentist day, which is just around the corner on 3/6, this one could be a good fit.