Back in 2012, I was lucky enough to see an early copy of Jed Henry’s Cheer Up, Mouse!. I’ve been smitten with it ever since.
I’ve had to wait all this time to yawp about it, but my patience has paid off—it was finally released this week from Houghton Mifflin.
I highly recommend finding a copy. This is a great book: It tells a simple and appealing tale, and it’s filled with bright, warm art. No tricks up its sleeves. No attempts to break any new ground or get all postmodern in our faces. Just a good, good story.
Wasting no time, the book’s first full spread—the copyright and dedication page—poses the story’s essential dilemma: Mouse is sad. Downright depressed. The tiny creature is looking down, his body hunched over, while all his woodland friends surround him, exuding glee.
On the next spread, also wordless, they are all gathered in a group, smiling at him. Mouse looks up, the sadness still clinging, and then silently turns and walks away. His friends are immediately concerned.
They convene in the next spread, the first one with text: “How are we going to make Mouse smile?” Each animal gets his or her turn. The bird picks up Mouse, carrying him through the air: “Flap and flutter, dip and dive–Cheer up, Mouse!” The frog tries to get him to splash and paddle in the pond. The rabbit convinces everyone to place Mouse on a picnic blanket and fling him into the air. Putting him “back on solid ground,” the mole invites him to dig with him.
You get the idea.
Problem is, Mouse never cracks a smile. He woke up with the doldrums, and these blues refuse to pack their bags and go away. He never says a word, but his despair is evident. “The story is a better study of depression than some textbooks,” notes the Kirkus review. I thoroughly agree.
All his well-meaning friends work themselves silly, trying to cheer up Mouse. Observant readers will note the concerned chipmunk on each spread, off to the side. He senses Mouse’s pain and watches the other creatures’ loud, determined efforts to cheer up their friend. When all else fails—and it’s here the book returns to its silence in a wordless spread, coming full-circle, in which Mouse is separated from the group, still looking down—the chipmunk slowly makes his way down a tree branch and looks down at Mouse. It is an exceptionally lovely decision here on the part of Jed Henry that this is devoted an entire, wordless spread. Henry takes his time with this moment, and I find it very poignant.
Even more poignant—as in, okay, I admit that the beauty of the moment makes me misty-eyed every time—is that in the next moment, the chipmunk is hugging Mouse. That’s right. That’s all he really needs. (The other animals, funnily enough, shrug cluelessly off to the side, separated from the chipmunk, the wise one.)
Finally, Mouse smiles.
It’s such an emotionally satisfying tale. It makes a simple and direct point: Sometimes a friend merely needs a listening ear. Sometimes a lack of answers and the very absence of advice are acceptable, even preferred. Sometimes it’s okay to be sad, and it’s a little bit easier when a friend is there to acknowledge it and pat you on the back with a wordless now now, things will look up eventually.
Henry renders his artwork, which very much possesses a painterly feel, with watercolors, pastels,and colored pencils (with a little assist from the computer). All the action extends to the pages’ very edges, inviting readers into the story, placing us right there in the forest. The economically worded text is rhythmic, immediate and pleasing.
A story bound to cheer up any reader, this one’s a keeper.
CHEER UP, MOUSE! Copyright © 2012 by Jed Henry. Published by Houghton Mifflin, Boston. Spread reproduced with permission of Jed Henry.
Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.