The order Rodentia (Latin for to gnaw) makes up over 1/3 of known kinds of mammals. Considerably adaptive, some species of the order are fossorial (pocket gopher), others are aquatic (beaver), arboreal (tree squirrel), volant (flying squirrel), or terrestrial (cotton rat). (TTU) The imaginable abilities and attributes of rodents are not lost on Kate DiCamillo. Her new book, Flora and Ulysses, the Illuminated Adventures, is about a squirrel named Ulysses and a girl named Flora. Fans of Kate DiCamillo’s books know that animals play a prominent role in her storytelling. Not surprisingly, they also have a place in the stories of which she is fond. Read on to discover some of her favorite literary rodents, including a gentleman dentist, an adviser to Ben Franklin, a literary vole, and an aspiring teacher. MM
LITERARY RODENTS I HAVE KNOWN (AND LOVED)
ABEL (Abel’s Island by William Steig)
This story of how the mouse Abelard Hassam Di Chircico Flint (Abel for short) gets separated from his wife and his civilized life and learns to survive alone on an island in the middle of a river is inspiring, funny and elegant.
AMOS (Ben and Me, by Robert Lawson)
It turns out that Benjamin Franklin didn’t come up with all those wonderful inventions and words of wisdom entirely by himself. He had help. A mouse named Amos.
DR. DE SOTO (Dr. Desoto, William Steig)
Dr. Desoto is a gentleman dentist. He is also a mouse. And, happily, he is nobody’s fool.
LITTLE MARGARET (The Summer Sherman Loved Me, by Jane St. Anthony)
Little Margaret is a squirrel. She is not to be confused with Margaret, who is a girl. And then there’s Sherman, who just might love Margaret (the girl (not the squirrel)(. Funny and sweet.
LILLY (Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse, by Kevin Henkes)
Lilly is the Unsinkable Molly Brown of mice. Every one of Henkes’ books about Lilly is honest, heartfelt and very, very funny. But I must say that I have a particular fondness for all the shenanigans surrounding the purple plastic purse.
THE MOUSE AND HIS CHILD (The Mouse and His Child, by Russell Hoban)
This father and son are wind-up mice, but they are rodents nonetheless. Contains one of my very favorite last-lines: “’Be happy,’ said the tramp.”
RATTY (The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame)
Ratty is actually not a rat; he is a water vole. Even better he is a water vole with literary pretensions. I love him, and everyone else in this book.
STUART (Stuart Little, E.B. White)
Quoting the opening lines will more than suffice: “When Mrs. Frederick C. Little’s second son arrived, everybody noticed that he was not much bigger than a mouse. The truth of the matter was, the baby looked very much like a mouse in every way.” How can you not keep reading?
TEMPLETON (Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White)
The rattiest rat of them all: filthy, greedy, disdainful and very, very funny.
TUCKER (The Cricket in Times Square, George Selden)
Tucker is a city mouse and a good friend to a musically gifted cricket named Chester. I loved this book when I was a kid. And I love this quote from George Selden about how the book came to be: “One night I was coming home on the subway, and I did hear a cricket chirp in Times Square. The story formed in my mind within minutes. An author is very thankful for minutes like those, although they happen all too infrequently.”
Kate DiCamillo lives and works in Minneapolis. Her new book, Flora and Ulysses, the Illuminated Adventures, is about a squirrel named Ulysses and a girl named Flora.
Kate loves rodents in books, but is ashamed to admit that when she found a mouse in her basement, she screamed like nobody’s business.