March 09, 2006


Mouse Count. By Ellen Stoll Walsh. Harcourt. $14.

Mouse Paint. By Ellen Stoll Walsh. Harcourt. $10.95.

     Ellen Stoll Walsh has a thing for mice.  Hers are adorable: plump and cute and expressive as can be.  Smart, too.  They teach kids about counting and colors in the most good-natured way imaginable.

     Mouse Count has been around since 1991, but still seems completely fresh.  It is sure to delight just about anyone except a humorless herpetologist.  The exception needs to be made because the 10 mice in this book – which, by the way, Walsh dedicates to her nine brothers and sisters – get the better of a hungry snake through a bit of well-timed cleverness.  At first, the mice stay alert for snakes while playing in the meadow, but then they get sleepy and doze off – and sure enough, a snake shows up.  This is one smart snake: he finds a big empty jar and decides to fill it with sleeping mice for his dinner.  He counts them, one to 10, as he gently picks up and deposits the “little, warm, and tasty” mice in the jar.  Eventually the snake coils around his jar of 10 mice and gets ready for dinner – until one mouse points out that there is still room in the jar, and there is a big “mouse” still uncaught.  As the snake heads for the additional catch, the mice, now very wide awake indeed, tip the jar over and “uncount” themselves down from 10 to one.  They run home; the snake – who has found a mouse-shaped rock, not a real mouse – goes hungry; and kids are left with number knowledge in the context of a story with more plot and excitement than they usually get in counting books.  Walsh’s excellent cut-paper collage illustrations are a big part of the fun: they are unusual, attractive and surprisingly lifelike.

     Mouse Paint, originally published in 1989, is now available as a brand-new, lap-size board book.  There are only three mice here – all white and all residing on a white piece of paper, where their color keeps them safe from the cat.  Then the cat falls asleep; the mice find three jars of paint (red, yellow and blue); and Walsh creates a marvelous story of primary and mixed colors.  Each mouse is doused in paint, drips puddles on the page, then discovers what happens by mixing one color with another: “Red feet in a yellow puddle make orange!” exclaims the red mouse happily – and young children (the board book is for ages six months to three years) will be equally delighted.  The mice jump and mix and stir and make all sorts of color combinations.  Then they wash off in the cat’s water bowl (a nice touch!) and, back to their protective white, paint colors on the paper – leaving enough of it white to keep them camouflaged.  Witty and winsome at once, Walsh’s mice provide a marvelous introduction to color.  And the super-sturdy, oversize board book is just the thing for parents to read to very young children…and then to give them so they can explore Walsh’s wonderful world on their own.

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