Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Little Drummer Mouse

I was substitute teaching at a school during their fall book fair. I found a cute little Christmas book with a slightly different take on the traditional story of The Little Drummer Boy. This story is The Little Drummer Mouse written and illustrated by Mercer Mayer.

I love the rich, detailed artwork in this book. Although it is part of the Christmas Story, all the characters - human and animal alike - are dressed in medieval-style attire, except for the three kings in their foreign garb and the "royal family", who are dressed the way the Holy Family is traditionally depicted.

The Little Drummer Mouse is the smallest mouse in his family, and his mother worries that he will lag behind and get lost, so she gives him a little acorn drum play in order to be heard. Since he is so small, he cannot play with the other, bigger, forest animals, and he is teased by both his siblings and the animals of the forest. One rabbit tells him to go play to the stars, which he does sometimes at night, out in the farmer's field.

One day, the animals hear that "the greatest king of all" would be born to man the coming winter, and the royal family would be passing through their forest. The animal decide to decorate their forest for them to see as they travel by. They wait and wait, but "only a poor man leading a donkey, and a woman wrapped in a thin blanket who rode on the donkey's back." The forest animals are greatly disappointed they went to all that work for nothing, but they decide that something important must have prevented the royal family from making their trip.

Later, when everyone else in the house is sleeping, the Little Drummer Mouse sees a new star - the loveliest star he's ever seen - out of the window. When he goes outside for a better look, he meets three kings on the way to see the new king, and they ask the Little Drummer Mouse if there is a stable nearby. After pointing them in the right direction, the Little Drummer Mouse decides he wants to see the baby king, too, and plucks up the courage to follow the three kings. He thinks he will not be noticed and watches as the people present the baby with their simple gifts to the man and woman the animals had seen in the forest. Then, he sees the three kings present their extravagant gifts and thinks that since he wasn't invited, he should leave. However, he is prevented from going by a shepherd's foot.

The shepherd start playing their instruments. The Little Drummer Mouse is so caught up with the music, he joins in on his little acorn drum and does not notice when the other players stop. The baby's mother asks the drummer to be brought forward. The scared Little Drummer Mouse is picked up. He is astonished to hear the new mother ask him to keep playing, as the baby seems to like it. Soon, not only was the Little Drummer Mouse joined by the other musicians, but everyone else began to sing. No longer was the Little Drummer Mouse being teased for playing his little acorn drum...

While the book never names the man, his wife, or the new baby, it is completely obvious they are meant to be Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus, even though the setting is wrong. I think it is a clever telling of part of the Christmas Story, and it is perfect for little children. The Little Drummer Mouse is recommended for children age 4 to 8.

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