In this British picture-book melodrama, a dancing mouse named Marguerite is bullied by the rat Randolph and eventually rescued by the shy but heroic mouse Benjamin.
A calligraphic letter B starts off the descriptive text: “Benjamin lived at the bottom of the tallest steeple in the cathedral yard….Marguerite lived next to the little fountain….Every day Benjamin watched Marguerite dancing around the fountain. He longed to be friends with her but Benjamin was shy and didn’t dare. So Marguerite danced alone.” When Randolph, whose eyes are “as black as oil,” dances with Marguerite, it is only because he is scheming to have the fountain to himself. When Randolph banishes Marguerite to a tiny space in the old sewer, Benjamin—with some assistance from Marguerite—finds and realizes his own courage and ingenuity. The artwork is priceless: watercolors that accurately reflect all the rodents’ emotions and show well-conceived backgrounds. Unfortunately, they draw on tired tropes of color: villainous bully Randolph is black; dainty, beautiful Marguerite is white; timid Benjamin is light brown. This combines with the antiquated maiden-in-need-of-rescue storyline to reinforce attitudes and associations that need to be put in the past. At times, the busy layouts make following the text sequence difficult, which distracts from the high drama that provides a primer on bullying.
A classic, traditional tale of heroine, villain, and hero—perhaps too traditional. (Picture book. 4-7)