A musical mouse resists domestication in Kirk’s (The Christmas Redwood, 2017, etc.) illustrated novella for children.
Following the scent of a granola bar, a wild Great Basin mouse creeps into a camping family’s RV and travels home with them. Milton escapes into the family’s house before young Matt can cage him. Milton must forage for food in a strange new environment; evade the family’s cat, Bertha; and avoid detection by Matt and his sister, Kathleen, as they play Treasure Hunt with their friend Jody. Matt names the mouse after John Milton, his father’s favorite poet. A gifted pianist, he divides his efforts between tracking Milton and practicing a Beethoven piece for an upcoming recital, and the mouse is entranced by the music. As the boy and the rodent try to outsmart each other, Milton attempts to determine which he values more—the music or his freedom. The book also includes delightful illustrations, an informative appendix, and jaunty sheet music, so that readers can experience Kathleen’s piano composition (she writes a song about Milton in the story). This slice-of-life tale, while tonally reminiscent of many classic children’s stories, is bogged down by bland prose and unrealistic, antiquated dialogue. It’s unclear how much of the human world Milton understands. Why would a mouse possess knowledge of man-made cookies, but be ignorant as to the existence of pencils? Puzzlingly, he also thinks of himself as “Milton” before he finds out that Matt has named him. The indistinguishable human characters are unrelentingly kind and friendly, with little interpersonal conflict. Thanks to the father’s educational, if somewhat expositional, speeches, children will learn new facts about animals, nature, and 17th-century poetry. That said, the evocation of John Milton, while compelling, merely presents an opportunity for poetic one-liners. Still, Milton the mouse’s connection with music is heartwarming and satisfying, and the low-stakes storyline makes for a peaceful, pleasant reading experience. The details of Milton’s natural behavior feel realistic and well-researched, as does the ambiance of the Nevada desert setting.
Old-fashioned and uncomplicated but ultimately charming.