5/24/13

The Spies of Gerander--brave young mice ftw!

The Spies of Gerander, by Frances Watts, is the second book in The Song of the Winns (Running Press Kids, April 2013).  The first installment, The Secret of the Ginger Mice, came out last year, and introduced us to three young mice triplets--Alice, Alex, and Alistair, the only one to have ginger fur.    The Secret of the Ginger Mice tells of how these triplets, along with Tibby Rose, another young mouse with ginger fur, survive all manner of attempted kidnappings and perilous travails.  While so doing, they learn of the persecution of Gerander, once a free country, now a savagely oppressed territory....

And having introduced characters and setting, the second book, The Spies of Gerander, is free to really take off!  The four mice are now part of the Gerander freedom movement.  Alice and Alex set off as spies to the castle of the enemy queen, while Alistair and Tibby venture into Gerander in search of the triplets' imprisoned parents....and it is truly exciting, in the best dramatic style of kids thwarting the enemy! (The first book I found a tad slow, but I genuinely enjoyed the second).

These books are very upper elementary friendly--the adventures are exciting, the plot twists and mysteries interesting, and the young mice are sympathetic characters.  It's told lightly and briskly; serious matters are dealt with straightforwardly, but the truly dark happenings of this world, that the young mice are themselves only gradually become aware of, are off-page.  Here's what I appreciated--the mice kids were kids, and behaved as such.  They are smart and brave enough to make fine protagonists, but they were not preternaturally gifted!  Here's what I also appreciated--there were good, kind people who happened to be in the enemy army.  Yay for avoiding black and white dichotomies in fantasy for kids!

Of course, instead of "people" I should have said "mice." I think the mouse-ness of it all adds lots to its kid appeal, making the books warmer and fuzzier fantasy, as it were, than if the central characters were actual human kids.  These books are pretty much surefire winners with small mammal fans, and probably there are many mammal-indifferent readers who would enjoy the mouse adventures too...

That being said, there's no particular Reason within the world of the story why the characters should be mice--they are for all intents and purposes ordinary historical people with fur.  There's almost no attempt to world-build from a mouse point of view (one can easily forget that the protagonists have tales and whiskers), and there's little consideration of scale.  At one point, for instance, Alex carries two hard-boiled eggs into the room, and I was forced to stop reading and ponder the fact that your standard egg is about the size of your standard mouse....at another point, the mice are uprooting rose bushes...So my reading experience included a firm and vigorous suspension, even stomping and thwacking, of disbelief.

Short answer:  not ones I'd go out of my way to urge my grown-up friends to read for their own pleasure, but definitely books I'd give to an eight or nine year old who enjoys animal fantasy.  Especially because they are Nice books qua books, the sort that say Present, with that thick crinkle-edged paper that there is undoubtedly a technical term for....


Frances Watts is an Australian writer; the third book, The Secret of Zanzibar, is already out over in those parts.

disclaimer:  books received for review from the publisher

3 comments:

  1. What is it about mice and children's books? It seems that human characters are the default, and if that fails, authors turn to mice as a backup. Not that I'm complaining :) Just puzzled by their popularity...

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    Replies
    1. There does seem to have been an explosion of mouse fantasy in the last few years...maybe global warming?

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  2. I just finished reading this one! It was a lot of fun, though there were many characters to keep straight.

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