The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse
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While doing so, I found Helen Ward's work to be complex and rather satisfying. Her version of The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse is amazingly good. I've ordered other versions from the library and will talk about them here.
First illustrators on my desk are
Lorinda Bryan Cauley
also Maggie Kneen
hmmm I wonder if I can put my hands on Jan Brett's, which I might own.
The Look Inside feature at Amazon will give quite a good idea of the quality:
Except for the dialog, there is little of anthropomorphism in this rendering. The mice are drawn au natural. The pictures are just downright gorgeous. Settings are lush with detail and growing things. Colors are vivid, shadowings are intriguing.
There is sly humor. When they are tiptoing past a sleeping fawn, the city mouse claims "And we don't have dangerous wild animals."
That may be true, but there is a pugnacious dog to deal with in town.
I like Ward's other work, but this is a masterpiece. It is quite evident that she loves this story. The re-telling is poetic in the wording as well.
Let’s get through Mark Bloodworth’s contribution so as to dispose of it. Abdo Publishing has a Magic Wagon Short Tales series. I haven’t seen others in the series, but so far, I’m not impressed. The too abrupt text is written by Christopher E. Long.
Neither the text nor the illustrations bothers to paint the mice sympathetically. It’s awfully hard for the reader to engage with them.
Town Mouse is dressed as a banker, and stands around cross-armed and scowling, definitely with a better-than-thou attitude. Country mouse is a stereotypical hick – barefoot, overalled and buck-toothed. He’s even chewing a stalk of hay in one scene.
Their homes both suffer from believability issues. Country mouse welcomes his cousin at the doorstep of a human sized log cabin. The interior is furnished with a human sized pot-bellied stove complete with the glow of a fire inside. Yet the only other furnishings are mouse-sized and out in the open.
Town mouse is an ungracious guest, denigrating the dinner. So off they go to the city, again entering by the front door, and finding entirely too much unfurnished space, except for the dining table with the leftovers of dessert. A quick bite of cake, a chase by a couple of slavering dogs, and Country mouse is on his way home.
My reaction – Why bother?
Milly, the Town mouse, lives in a dollhouse furnished with a shiny new stove and pots and pans and dishes, but they are merely for show – meals are served in the Big Kitchen; and an orange cat is the menace. A messy abandoned table with wasted food distresses me, so I was glad that the food in Milly’s Big Kitchen was neatly displayed on trays and plates.
Both the author, Kate Summers, and the illustrator, Maggie Kneen, betray their preferences. Tilly’s home is in the roots of a big old tree and is lovingly depicted, inside and out. Tilly gets up early and does all her mousework before breakfast. Her kitchen cupboards and shelves are filled with harvested foods and treats. She serves “cabbage soup roasted chestnuts cherry turnovers and bread seedcake plum dumplings and hot apple pie”…but no cheese.
Milly freaks when a bumble bee dives their way and when a sheep lowers its head and snorts in their ears. Understandable.
Lorinda Bryan Cauley’s version
is similar to Kneen’s, but the mice are males. They are clothed, but not over-dressed. The two have a day of gentle country activities before feasting. The Town mouse puts his nose up much like Bloodworth’s mouse, at the supper menu and the amount of work it involves (What is it about male mice?)
When we visit his town quarters, they are nicely furnished from pilfered human belongings. He even has a lovely silk bedspread made from a fancy handkerchief.
Their meal on the dining room table is interrupted by servants clearing away, a little girl retrieving her doll, and finally (don’t worry, they aren’t allowed in the dining room)two big dogs.
We are not getting a fair sample of the positives of city life – culture, parties, museums, etc. Shopping!
Are you only looking at stand-alone picture books? I think there are a few fabulous illustrators who've done this tale in Aesop collections (e.g. classic golder age illustrators like Arthur Rackham, Charles Folkard, Milo Winter, as well as more recent greats like Lisbeth Zwerger) - but I'm not sure if their versions were ever published separately...
Bernadette Watts’ mice are nominally female in the text, but it doesn’t matter. They are free of any artifice.
In a bit of a turnaround, the Country mouse ventures into town first and the Town mouse befriends her.
Unlike some other illustrators, Watts spends an appreciable effort at depicting town, both from a mouse’s view and in a rooftop panorama on the front endpapers.
We’re treated to a cut-away view of Country mouse’s home, again under the roots of a big old tree, and all kinds of plant life, especially daisies, buttercups, blackberry brambles and honeysuckle, just exactly what I find outside my door this season. They embrace in farewell on a moonlit night, and gosh and begorragh, the flowers are closed up.
Unusually, but more true to life, there are numerous unnamed other mice on most of the pages.
My only quibble is that mice don’t pose upright like cats, do they? (see cover)
This isn't my cover, but has the same characters
Ah! Two male mice who are unfailingly polite and friendly. This is good.
The illustrations are mid-grade adequate only, but there are a couple of charming details. Feld-maus wears an old-fashioned workman's smock. And when he leaves town, he has to sneak past the constable and squeeze himself under the locked city gate. Oddly, though, the lock appears to be on the outside of the gate.
Otherwise, the backgrounds are fairly mundane and the characters are human shaped with animal heads, not a feature I appreciate.
Percy also did a version of The Wind in the Willows, so I will make a few comments in that thread, using images found on the net.
Denise Guynn's adaptation is BORING, to go along with James Flynn's o-ho-hum visuals. (Flynn doesn't have a page here, so the touchstone is misleading, but Iam so unimpressed, I don't plan to do the CK work.)
Again, two males, one rude banker-type, one rube hick, one ineffective cat. And that's all there is, besides the creepy liquid-y eyes.
A waste of effort.
She is charming here.
The text, by Ellen Schecter, reads like poetry.
It starts out "At the edge of the meadow in a chink in the wall by the side of a small country lane lived a fine Country Mouse."
Further, "The busy Country Mouse stored sweet silver rain in a hollow rock...She wove curtains of spider silk and rugs of willow-wand. She slept beneath a quilt of rose petals stitched neatly together with cobwebs."
Country Mouse delights in life, as she proves when she races a storm, catches raindrops on her tongue, invites the fireflies to perch and gossip in her lanterns. And finally, some of the plusses of town life are presented - a dance in the town square, shops "bursting with wonderful things," street food, a juggler, a puppet show, a brass band.
Hannon is not a genius illustrator, but her work is pleasing, with plenty of details to enjoy.
This was a good match-up. It's for the publisher's series Bank Street Ready-to-Read. If I were still childrens librarian, I would add these to the collection.
Country Mouse has one big button sewn on the middle of his plaid shirt. And do notice Town Mouse's fashionable accessorizing. Does she remind you of Minnie Pearl?
They get into all sorts of adventures, and the final reward is a big ole steaming bowl of beans 'n' bacon. **smacking my lips** Mmmm-Mmmm.
I didn't mean to, but I ordered a supersized 24 inch square edition done by Janet Skiles.
There is plenty of verbiage in this one - padded to fill 32 pages. Another author might could do this more successfully, but this one just doesn't hold one's attention.
All of the animals are just too durn cute - even the city cat is all cuddly looking. There is one significant exception, and I may scan it later. There is a creditable owl out in the country, and it is placed impressively on the page, coming right at the reader.
The rest is pretty forgettable.
The figures are drawn very basically but there are some amusing bits. Town Mouse travels by skateboard, Country Mouse wears green with polky-dot wellies, the crescent moon is made of --- cheese!
The flip panels contribute to the movement of the story and are well done.
It's a very heavy well made board book with pretty sparkly stars on the cover. But the characters leave much to be desired. First off, their heads are stylized to the point of basic geometric shapes with only changes in angle of tilt to indicate movement and only once are the eyes used expressively.
We get only the barest outline of the story, and we're not sorry when it's done.
You put me to shame...I need to do another edition in my own thread.
was first published in 1919. Dover Books re-published it in 2008, and I’m enjoying it very much. There are 126 fables collected here in 112 pages, so some tales don’t get their own illustration, but twelve get gorgeous full-page plates. Every page gets at least a 1/6th illustration. The smaller pieces are in a muted palette. The full- page plates have all the color-stops pulled out. The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse get one, as well as a smaller picture depicting the country meal. The large picture shows the two on the mansion table, but already fleeing the dangers. Winter’s mice are simply clad – Town Mouse wears a ruff, pince-nez and carries a tassled bag. Country Mouse has a pretty blue shawl and matching sunbonnet.
The moral is different than today’s interpretations which are more along the lines of “Each to his own preference.” This version is specific – “Poverty with security is better than plenty in the midst of fear and uncertainty.”
Her drawings are always rich in color and details, and there is more to the picture story than what is told in the text. Most pages are built like a triptych and much of the inter-text action happens in the side panels.
She uses bits of this ‘n’ that to frame the pictures – twigs, cones, nuts, feathers & such in the country; coins, buttons, pastas, marbles, coins, keys, et cetera in town. Alphabet pasta is scattered meaningfully on the kitchen page.
Her mice are ADORABLE, anatomically correct but richly clothed.
She edits the story; there is a town mouse couple who drive to the country in a teacup cart. The country couple’s home is a richly detailed birch tree stump with shelf fungus window awnings nestled in a moss and lichen setting.
We see lots of lovely animals – on one page, a river otter and a badger are reminiscent of Wind in the Willows, but we also see Brett’s favorite hedgehog, several snails, a lizard and three toads on beds of lichen.
After a series of thwarted maneuvers the country hazard (an owl) and the town hazard (a pussycat) bump into each other during the final chase, but there is no romance engendered.
The happy mice, returned to their own environments, are cozily content, and we all sigh in satisfaction.
The mice suffer some slight anthropomorphism, they are built more human than mouse-like. Their homes are more linear and boxy, though there are some nice details. Town mouse has reminder signs at his mousehole – “Watch your tail.” And “Look left, look right every night.” And country mouse’s wall is adorned with the motto “Keep your whiskers clean.”
I’ll give it a B.
I thought that Don Daily was merely adequate doing The Wind in the Willows and at first glance, I thought his Aesop work was more of the same. But spending time with the illustrations I learned to appreciate their charms. I don’t like his lions in any of the stories – too much facial expression. He’s not in the same rarified company as Helen Ward, but he does alright for himself.
Most of the stories have one full page illustration and on the facing page, the story itself and a detail picture. The exceptions are The Tortoise and the Hare, The Lion and the Mouse, and the City Mouse and Country Mouse. The last is given a lavish spread.
We get a full page picture of each of their homes, the Country Mouse lives in a barn, but the size proportions are odd. It’s a nice barn, with hay and grain stored in every bay, but the mice appear human sized compared to the architecture, yet the objects they are surrounded by locally - found food items, a thread spool and an apple core, would make them normal mouse-size. The text mentions that the Country Mouse made an expedition into the farmhouse to collect cornbread crumbs as a special treat, at risk of being smacked with a broom.
Somehow, he also serves milk in walnut shells; we’re not privy to that collecting story.
The mice are anatomically correct, though they stand and walk upright. Their upper bodies and heads are clad. The City Mouse is banker-ly, with top hat and pince-nez. He feels pity for his cousin, not disdain. Country Mouse wears a vest, neckerchief and straw hat. There are no country misadventures, but City Mouse is bothered by the night cricket noise and the rooster at dawn.
The next page is a double spread of the pair negotiating city traffic. My goodness! They are fully dog sized as they cross the cobbles, narrowly avoiding the wheels of several model-Ts. A nearly human-sized cat hisses at them from the window of one of the passing vehicles. Edwardian-dressed humans are driving and walking, lest I give you the wrong impression. And here’s where poor editing creeps in. In the gutter are a discarded hot dog and an ice cream cone. It’s barely possible that there were street vendors for those foods in the time period indicated, but the bun and cone are thoroughly modern styles. Furthermore, City Mouse recommends a Dumpster behind a restaurant, and Country Mouse gets stuck in a wad of bubblegum. In the detail depiction of city food, is an Oreo cookie. All discontinuity issues, as they say in the movie business. (There’s a better word for it, but it’s not coming to me.)
The last picture is City Mouse’s apartment, and though he lives in a human house – they raid the dining room and are chased by the dog - his apartment is furnished with a fireplace and mantel, a grandfather clock, aubusson rug, tea table and chairs and a lovely china tea set, all to mouse scale. I might think it was a dollhouse room, but that’s not indicated and there is a fire going in the fireplace and candles burning.
Ah well. I’m pointing out the discrepancies (only a critic would do so), but they really are entertaining pictures. Daily’s technical skills are particularly evident in the last picture, as a close examination of City mouse’s head is to see and appreciate the whiskers, the nose, the bright eye, and the perfection of the soft mouse ear. His environments are rich with details, unlike some illustrators here. His barn feels like a real barn, with sunlight filtering through the siding, and the City Mouse’s mantel has a central carving of a cat’s head.
The Moral is the simplified To Each His Own.
It's a shame the Mark Bloodworth version was so bad, I actually really like the illustration style seen on that cover!
The Kneen one looks nice, but a little too cutesy for my taste. Cauley's likewise looks kind of cute, but the mice are so round! I'm a bit put off by that.
You are completely right about Watts' sitting pretty depiction, rodents simply don't bend in that way. They're either horizontal on all fours, or they can sit/stand upright, on their back legs. The only time their body would be in a position vaguely resembling that is when they're grooming and kind of curled forward to clean their belly. But their front legs are not miraculously longer than their back ones like that, they're half that length. The back legs are what is longer, to allow them to jump.
I really like the illustrations on Hannon's cover, just the right balance of cute & realism for me, haha. Same goes for Stevens, though those are more rats than mice, lol.
Sorting piles at home, I found an Aesop's Fables by Charles Santore. He does a very loving and lavish job, but somehow, the pictures don't charm me to any degree. His animals are beautifully rendered, but they lack the character and subtext that other illustrators have brought to these stories.
The Bear and the Bees is the exception.
His text generally occupies one side of the spread with a full page illustration opposite. The mice are excepted , to allow for the dual nature of the plot.