The Mouse and the Motorcycle

Title: The Mouse and the Motorcycle
Author: Beverly Cleary
Pages: 158
Reading Level: 9-12
Star Rating: ★★

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Remember Ralph S. Mouse? Well, it turns out that Ralph was the sequel to The Mouse and the Motorcycle!

The Story.

Ralph is in big trouble. He just wanted to try the motorcycle that the boy in room 215 had left on his desk. But the jangling telephone had jarred his nerves so, that he’d accidentally steered the motorcycle off of the desk and into the wastebasket! There is no way to escape up these metal walls. What will happen to him?

Thankfully, the boy from room 215 returns before the maid empties the wastebasket. The boy, Keith, is a very sympathetic soul who helps Ralph out of the wastebasket and allows him to ride the motorcycle around in the room. They have nice chats together and become great friends.

But danger is afoot. Because of Ralph’s daring expeditions into the outer hotel world, management has decided to wage a war on mice. They will be rooted out and destroyed. Unless… unless…

If the mice can convince Keith to furnish them with food, they will be saved. But will he be able to provide them with enough food to last them past his departure? And when he falls sick with a fever, is there any way that Ralph can help him to recover?

Cautions.

The entire premise of the story is obviously false. Mice and humans are capable of communicating with one another, and mice are able to ride on toy cars and motorcycles simply by making the noise of the vehicle.

Both Keith and Ralph have negative relationships with their mothers – Ralph’s is the one which is more explored in the story. Ralph’s mother is portrayed as a querulous mother who does nothing but doubt her son, feel nervous over his recklessness, and complain about his behavior. Ralph responds in a ‘buzz off’ sort of attitude, arguing with her, disregarding her counsel, and even outright disobeying her. Ralph’s very relationship with Keith is conducted against his mother’s wishes, although, of course, in the end, she is shown how stupid and over-protective she was and why Ralph was right. In the following scene, Ralph and Keith are both complaining about their mothers.

“Gee, you’re lucky,” whispered the boy.

In order to answer, Ralph had to stop. “I am?” It had never occurred to him that a mouse could be luckier than a boy.

“You sure are.” The boy spoke with feeling. “My mother would never let me ride a motorcycle. She would say I might break a leg or something silly like that.”

“Well, if you want to come right down to it,” said Ralph, “I don’t suppose my mother would be exactly crazy about the idea.” He began to have an uneasy felling that he really should be getting back to the mousehole.

“Anyway,” said the boy gloomily, “it will be years and years before I’m old enough to ride a motorcycle, and then when I am old enough my mother won’t let me.”

Ralph really felt sorry for the boy, hampered as he was by his youth and his mother. [pgs. 46-47]

When the mice are in danger of being exterminated, Ralph places himself as leader over his family (including Aunts and Uncles, who are all portrayed as being stupid because they do not agree with Ralph) and issues orders which he expects them to all obey.

Ralph also has a few cocky moments – here is one of them.

Because the dog was a captive and he was free, Ralph could not resist sticking out his tongue and waggling his paws in his ears, a gesture he had learned from children in room 215 and one he knew was sure to arouse anger.

“Let me at him,” barked the little terrier.

“Cut it out,” grumbled the man, fumbling for the doorknob of room 211 while Ralph, a dare-devil now, rode in a giddy circle around the ash-tray stand.  He had a feeling of cockiness he had never known before. Who said mice were timid? Ha! [pgs. 55-56]

In one scene, Keith’s parents are having a disagreement. Keith starts to make a comment about an unrelated topic, but stops because he realizes that he “should not interrupt an argument.” [pg. 13]

‘Gee’ is used four times, ‘gee whiz’, ‘dickens’, and ‘golly’ are each used once.

Conclusion. Not nearly as endearing or acceptable for children as its sequel Ralph S. Mouse. Not a book I would especially recommend.

A Letter to Mrs. Roosevelt

Title: A Letter to Mrs. Roosevelt
Author: C. Coco De Young
Pages: 103
Recommended Ages: 9-12
Star Rating: ★★★

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My first question was – which Mrs. Roosevelt?

The Story.

Eleven year old Margo Bandini has become accustomed to the tightening times of the Great Depression; of no money for candy and of seeing ‘Sheriff Sale’ signs in the front yards of her friends’ houses. She loves to sit and watch the passing trains with her best friend, Rosa, and to exchange bits of news with Mr. Frappa at the grocery market. Even though her little brother, Charlie, gets into all sorts of scrapes, life still goes on happily.

One day at school, Miss Dobson, the lovely teacher, suggests that each class member choose an important person they admire and write a letter to them expressing their thoughts. Margo is excited. But who should she write to?

When Margo learns that a Sheriff’s Sale sign will soon be going up in their yard because her father can’t make payments quickly enough to satisfy the bank, she knows exactly who she will write to – Everywhere Eleanor! President Roosevelt’s eyes and ears; the woman who wants to help the people. But only two weeks remain before their house will be sold. Will Mrs. Roosevelt receive the letter in time? And if she does will she be able to save Margo’s home?

Cautions.

Margo’s neighbor, Mrs. DiLuso is superstitious. She thinks that shooting stars bring bad luck and that il diavolo (the devil) caused The Great Depression. Mama tells Mrs. DiLuso that “il diavolo didn’t arrive on the tail of a shooting star, but in the hearts of those who allowed it.” [pg. 81]

Margo’s friend Rosa declares that “little brothers can be a nuisance.” [pg. 10] Later, after Charlie gets lost, Margo agrees.

When she is at Rosa’s house, Margo can hear Margo’s parents fighting in the background. Strangely enough, the arguments are mostly because the father cannot fully support his family with his income but he refuses to let his wife work because he believes that it is his duty to provide for his family.

On one occasion, after the tension has oppressed Margo for several weeks, she becomes angry. Here is the account,

Enough was enough! I ignored Rosa when she called to me from her front porch. I ignored Mama and Papa when they looked up from the dining room table to say hello. I ignored the fact that Papa was home early and that the table was covered with account books and papers. I didn’t even flinch when I noticed that Mama’s eyes were red again.

I paid no heed to Papa’s “Margo!” as I stomped up the stairs to my room and slammed my door shut as hard as I could. I didn’t pay any attention to my growling stomach when Mama called me to dinner. I simply told her I wasn’t hungry and stayed in my room.

It was bedtime when Charlie knocked on my door and whispered, “Margo, I’m really sorry. Can I come in?” I didn’t answer him; instead I threw my pillow as hard as I could. It landed with a loud thud against the door, then fell to the floor.

I thought I’d feel better. I didn’t. I was hungry. I was tired – tired of being mad at everyone. But there was something far worse than the anger pounding away inside my head. It was the feeling in my heart. I was lonely, very lonely. [pg. 72]

After exhausting her anger in this way, Margo feels much more cheerful the next day.

My only other concern is philosophical rather than with something that is defiling. The problem of the story is that a young girl’s family is about to lose their home. The great wish of the protagonist is to have her home saved. The conclusion *PARDON THE SPOILERS* is that the house is saved – by Eleanor Roosevelt’s intercession and provision for the family with one of FDR’s New Deal loans. Her intervention in the private world of business and loans is Margo’s salvation.

‘Gee’ is used once.

Conclusion. A Letter to Mrs. Roosevelt provides a glimpse into the worries, expectations, interests, and hope of the generation of the 1930s. Through Margo we learn of the insecurities and solutions of this momentous time period. Purchase a copy here.

The Story of Walt Disney

Title: The Story of Walt Disney
Author: Bernice Selden
Pages: 90
Recommended Ages: 8 & up
Star Rating: ★★★★

Hi there! As of October 2013, I have upgraded to a new site – The Blithering Bookster – where I have posted all of my old reviews and continue to post new ones. Hoist yourself over to join the fun!

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The word Disney has come to represent many things – fun childhood memories of imaginative tales for those who like his work, and corrupted, morally disgusting films for those who dislike it. But what was the man Walt Disney really like? What caused him to create the characters and worlds that have enchanted generations?

His Life.

Walt always loved art. Even as a young boy, though his father disapproved of his wasteful hobby, Walt was able to earn a nickel here and there for his sketches. But Walt was rarely able to enjoy the proceeds of his labor, as his father always collected and invested his wages.

Walt’s father was always on the move – and always moving his family. Walt became used to moving from city to city to farm to city. But his favorite place was their country farm, because there Walt came to love animals. This love would manifest itself later in Walt’s life.

After working for the Red Cross in France during World War I, Walt moved to Chicago where he forged a partnership with fellow animation artist, Ub Iwerks. Together they produced animation ads until debts forced them to close their company. It was then that Walt made the decision to move to Hollywood.

It was at this juncture in his life that Walt joined his brother Roy in founding Disney Brothers Studios. With this new venture, Walt pursued the course he had always pursued – animation. But during the early stages of Disney Brothers Studios, Walt made a key decision; he determined never to work for someone else again. Instead of hiring himself out to animate commercials, Walt created film shorts based on his own characters – characters like Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. When talkie film technology came along, Walt immediately incorporated it into his shorts.

In 1937, Walt created his first feature length cartoon, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It was an immediate success. During World War II, the Secretary of the Treasury hired Walt to make patriotic shorts. Walt obliged, and used Donald Duck to extol paying taxes and buying war bonds. After the war, Walt made several films which combined live action with cartoon scenes (So Dear to My Heart, Song of the South). In 1950, Walt produced Treasure Island, his first entirely live action film. After that his creativity had no bounds.

During his lifetime, Walt directed one hundred fourteen films and produced six hundred forty-one.  Many of these films are just as popular now as they were at their first release. He also created the immensely popular Californian theme park Disneyland which has received more than six hundred million visitors since its opening. Walt Disney, with all his faults, is rightly viewed as one of the most successful entrepreneurs and filmmakers that the world has ever seen.

Discussion.

As a simple children’s biography, The Story of Walt Disney does not address whether the films that Disney created are morally acceptable. References are made to many of his productions, but Ms. Selden never express an opinion of them. This paragraph which closes out the story is couched in edgy terms.

“What was it that made Walt Disney different from other cartoonists or other business people? Perhaps it was that Walt Disney was like a great magician. His work was like a mirror that gave all people, young and old alike, the chance to see the fantasy and enchantment in their lives.

And his magic lives on.” [pg. 87]

Sadly, Walt’s father was a very harsh man who would whip his children for the tiniest mistakes. Regardless of their efforts to please him, their father was never quite satisfied with their performances. Because of this, Walt and the rest of his family would often practice deceptions upon him to avoid unpleasant scenes. One day, as a grown boy, Walt tells his father that he can no longer beat him. He was never again spanked. Unfortunately, the influence of his father’s behavior affected Walt’s own temperament. As he grew older he became more critical and distant.

After leaving home, Walt tried to join the army; however, being only sixteen, he employed deception to ensure acceptation (i.e. he lied about his age). Later it is commented that one of his fellow soldiers taught him how to play poker.

It is commented that Walt took his children to amusement parks on Sunday mornings.

‘Gee’ is used once.

Conclusion. A good, introductory account of Walt Disney’s life, The Story of Walt Disney will especially interest young artists.