Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Milton the Mouse

Milton the Mouse by Janice Kirk

“Oh, fie my wandering mouse, how thou dost stray.”
A charming, delightful story of a music loving White-Footed Deer Mouse, named Milton who will capture your heart. His creative Houdini-like escapades running loose in the Stewart household trying to avoid capture and Bertha the cat are humorous. The story engages the reader to turn the page to find out what happens next.

The story of Milton the Mouse by Janice Kirk evolved from some of Kirk's personal experiences. In 1976 Kirk's husband, a biology professor secured a sabbatical to study plant and animal life in the western part of the U.S. Their school aged children brought schoolbooks and assignments to keep up with their classes while she brought her student painting equipment, sketchbooks, paints and other necessary equipment to keep up with her interests. The family traveled the southwest in a camper and recorded their travels in several journals.

The Road to Beaver Park Painting, Perception, and Pilgrimage, is a memoir written by Kirk about this year long journey of discovery, renewed spiritual and ecological awareness. 
Book Review at https://sockfairies.blogspot.com/2018/09/the-road-to-beaver-park.html

Kirk's love of the spoken word and classical music is a common thread found throughout the story. Kirk choose the name Milton for the mouse since she grew up hearing her father reciting John Milton's lines of poetry. Music has been a central part of Kirk's family life. She is an accomplished musician and singer herself, her own children are now an accomplished musician and singer, and her husband always had a love of classical music.

While Kirk and her family were on the last leg of their year long camping trip of discovery, a White-Footed Deer Mouse followed the scent of granola bar. It found refuge in Kirk's purse. His presence was not discovered until their return home And so begins the adventure story of Milton the Mouse. He escapes into their home and now must forage for food anywhere he can find it but always cognizant of Bertha the cat, on the prowl for him. Matt, a young boy around 12, is a gifted pianist dividing his time between tracking Milton down and practicing a Beethoven piece for an upcoming recital. As each of them try to outsmart one another, Milton finds himself being entranced by the music. Kathleen, Matt's younger sister, composes a piano piece about Milton in the story. Dad is poetic reciting lines of poetry and mom worries a lot how they'll manage with a mouse for a pet.

I enjoyed Kirk's writing style with a parallel narrative third person narrated by Milton the Mouse. As each character speaks we then hear Milton's thoughts so we know exactly how he feels as each event unfolds. Milton's natural behavior throughout the story feels realistic and well researched. The appendix at the end of the book is a great learning tool. It includes fun facts about White-Footed Deer Mice, composer Ludwig Van Beethoven and poet and essayist John Milton. One of Kirk's strengths as a writer are her sentences, rich in detail and often evocative with their imagery. The dialogue is abundant and keeps the story moving at a good pace.

The story will appeal to ages 8-10 who will love following Milton's adventures, making predictions where he'll go next and will he be caught. There's a nice lesson in the story as Milton figures out how important is freedom to him and a return trip back to his homeland, the Nevada desert. Since the story has a lot of text within 49 pages with challenging vocabulary for this age group, I highly recommend it as a read aloud by the classroom teacher or an adult at home. I also see it as a wonderful classroom resource for creative writing as a teaching model. Milton is an endearing character. He will charm you with his ingenious means of escape and love of music.

Enjoy a short video of the Janice Kirk reading her book,  Milton the Mouse. 

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