Such was the case with Rumer Godden's wonderfully serious children's story, The Mousewife. It was out-of-print. Now, thanks to the people at the New York Review of Books it is available once again in a affordable and attractive hardcover.
Just in time for the holiday season. I will endeavor to get more children's literature up over the next year. They're our future and all that...
Anyway, enjoy. This is a really good book, regardless of where it's shelved.
The Mousewife by Rumer Godden. Pictures by William Pene du Bois. New York Review of Books Children’s Collection. Hardcover. $14.95. Click the image above to support the Devil's Accountant.
“I think about cheese. Why don’t you think about cheese?”
So inquires the Mousewife’s husband. He is concerned about his wife’s suddenly strange behavior, as she has been around less of late. She no longer scampers with him every day, nor does she crawl out onto the rug to collect crumbs. She has for the last few days been spending all her time sitting at one of the windows in the house where they, and other housemice live. He doesn’t like this one bit.
The Mousewife was first published in 1967 and it enjoyed a successful readership for years. Of late it has been out-of-print, unavailable to old friends or young newcomers. That is until NYRB released it in their wonderful children’s collection.
NYRB (New York Review of Books) publish mainly critically acclaimed works that are now out-of-print or have not been previously translated/ have older, more awkward translations. The bulk of their catalogue represents works of complex, sophisticated literature. Their recent addition of a children’s catalogue serves a much needed role. Too many kids’ books, of wonderful authorship and illustration, have been unavailable for the last two decades.
These older kids books, most of them from the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s are often more serious and less politically correct (and less prone to outright fantasy) than their modern counterparts. The hearken to the days of fable and in using this simple but efficient narrative form they succeed in providing succinct lessons, both moral and knowledge oriented.
The Mousewife is of the moral sort. This tenderly illustrated book is a story of a remarkable incident in an otherwise average life. The Mousewife, through a surprise friendship with a recently caged turtledove, learns much of the outside world. As a housemouse, she has never set paw outside of the small routine, which defines the mice’s lifestyle inside Miss Barbara Wilkinson’s home.
The turtledove is not well however. He is a bird from beyond the windows and misses his open skies, lush green bowers and most of all, his wife. Though it begins to jeopardize her home life, and her husband begins to become abusive of her new interests (and her, in one awkward but poignant scene), the Mousewife spends time with the turtledove, listening over and over again to his tales of the outside world.
In time she has babies and in this realizes that she must stop going to see the turtledove, as responsibility to her children demands she spend most of her time foraging for food. She is sad, thinking of how ill the turtledove had become. Thinking of the caged bird she spies an open window. The very window she spend her days trying to see outside through the blurry glass.
She resolves to do something amazing.
The Mousewife is a fable about compassion, friendship and above all, daring. It is a story about doing the right thing, no matter the potential costs and by doing so learning and experiencing more than one would have if they had taken the easy, sleepy road of complacence.
This is a wonderful book that the young will love to hear aloud and one that parents will quietly read to themselves after the young ones go to bed.