In this charming picture book, a timid mouse wins the day by using determination and hard work to overcome his fear of performing in public.
The story begins with a poster announcing that the animals at the Pennydale Zoo will soon host a talent show. As a mouse with song-and-dance dreams, little Juniper Mouse yearns to join the other contestants in the spotlight, but he feels too shy to follow through: “He thought of how nervous, / He’d look stood on the stage, / The big cats all howling, / And rattling their cage.” Juniper’s encouraging mom suggests that he practice hard in order to do his best, and the little mouse takes her advice to heart. When the big day arrives, Juniper is the last act on the bill. The author has fun with a comic roster of talent-show participants, and his young readers will, too; they include a judge (an African lion named Big-Paws McGraw), an emcee (Gwen the Rockhopper Penguin), and various contestants whose ambitious acts go awry: a rabbit gets stuck in Gerry the magician giraffe’s cape; one member of a “hump-tastic, desert-walking, sideways-chewing group” of singing camels hits a sour note; and disaster strikes during a pachyderm-turtle duo’s balancing and juggling act. Finally, it’s Juniper’s turn to confound assumptions (“ ‘Ha, ha,’ sneered the Lizard, / ‘So what can a mouse do?’ ”) with his tap-dancing and “rhyme-rapping.” Children’s-book author Sadler (Normal Nina and Her Magic Box, 2014) offers another lighthearted picture-and-poetry book with a serious message. Its quatrains have the same rhythmic bounce and simplicity as his first, but they have more clarity of purpose. His previous book had a similarly gentle appeal, but it lost its way with a fuzzy message that seemed to equate “normal” with “good.” Here, however, the lesson, about the value of working toward a desired goal, has a clear subtext of healthy empowerment. The author also nicely realizes the humorous mishaps and ebullient finale with colorful, fine-lined illustrations.
A gentle, comic treat with a subtle lesson about building character.