August 31, 2017
(++++) MICE AND MORE
Superbat. By Matt Carr. Scholastic. $16.99.
Tea with Oliver. By Mika Song. Harper. $17.99.
Bats look a lot like flying mice, but that is not the mouse connection in Matt Carr’s Superbat. The mice appear fairly late in the book – as Pat the bat tries to live up to the book’s title. Pat has trouble sleeping one day and decides to make himself a costume so he can be like his favorite comic-book superheroes. He manages to produce the costume on his mom’s sewing machine even though his wings keep getting in the way and the noise bothers bats who are trying to sleep – after all, it is the middle of the day. Anyway, Pat dons the costume and announces himself as Superbat when everyone wakes up that night. But his friends challenge him: what super powers does he have? Well, Pat says confidently, he has super hearing! But his friends point out that they do, too. Pat admits he cannot lift a car or shoot laser beams from his eyes, but he can fly! But of course all the other bats can fly as well. Aha! says Pat. He can find things in the dark by using echolocation! But the other bats laugh at him: “That’s nothing special. We can all do THAT!” Poor Pat – he decides he is not special after all, “just a normal bat in a silly outfit.” But wait! Someone is calling for help, and Pat hears the cry because of his super-sensitive hearing! It is a family of mice, trapped all the way on the other side of town by “a BIG bad cat.” To the rescue! Pat flies all the way to the scene of danger, flaps back and forth despite the cat’s attempts to catch or swat him, and finally scares the cat away. The mice are saved, and are tremendously grateful – and Pat’s friends, who have followed him across town and seen the rescue, declare that he does have a super power after all: courage. This is a funny and nicely paced story that incorporates a variety of facts about bats – several more of which Carr offers on the final page. And the broadly conceived and simply rendered cartoon illustrations do a great job of making Pat simultaneously silly and endearing. Even the cat, who looks on in puzzlement after running away from the strangely caped crusader, is fun to see and really not very threatening at all. Except, of course, to the mice.
A mouse named Philbert has little fear of cats in Mika Song’s Tea with Oliver, because Oliver is a cat whose tastes seem to be the same as Philbert’s. Oliver, like Philbert, enjoys drinking tea and eating cookies, but he has no one to join him and is lonely. What an opportunity for Philbert – if only he weren’t “too shy to come out from under the couch.” Philbert tries to call out to Oliver from beneath the furniture, but Oliver does not hear him. So Philbert writes Oliver a letter asking if they can have tea together – but it is on a very small piece of paper that Oliver sweeps under the couch while cleaning up and singing about having “the lonesome apartment bluuues.” Undaunted, Philbert writes a second letter and launches it toward Oliver, using a slingshot made from a rubber band. But Oliver thinks the letter is a bug and starts scratching himself, and he misses this missive, too. Then a bunch of Oliver’s relatives show up to throw a party, and Philbert decides that if it is going to be a tea party, he will attend, too. No such luck! Philbert gets up his courage and carries a letter toward Oliver to ask if he can join the party, but as Oliver offers the other cats tea, things get chaotic: these cats just want to bounce and dance and make noise until – oh no! – one of them bangs into Oliver, whose teacups fly off the tray on which he is carrying them and break on the floor. “The party ends as quickly as it began,” but now Oliver does not even have teacups anymore, and as he cleans up the mess, he sheds a tear and says, “I’ll never have tea with anyone now.” But Philbert finally comes over and hands Oliver the letter, and after one more misunderstanding (Oliver first thinks the letter is a tissue, and blows his nose in it), Philbert reveals that he was able to save two teacups by putting a sofa pillow under them as they fell. “And the new friends sit down for a nice cup of tea.” And cookies. And the start of what is sure to be a beau-tea-ful friendship. The fact that Philbert is a mouse and Oliver is a cat is barely relevant to the story – all that matters here is that the two have tastes (specifically for tea and cookies) in common. That is a nice, subtle message for Tea with Oliver to deliver, and the pleasant tones of the ink-and-watercolor drawings make the book a sweetly relaxing one. Adults reading it to children may want to sip a cup of tea while doing so – and even offer a bit to the kids.