Saturday, June 8, 2013

Sir Mouse to the Rescue - Dirk Nielandt & Marjolein Pottie

Everything about this book is delightfully unexpected. Marjolein Pottie’s illustrations, using collage and paper cutting techniques, are immediately captivating and draw you into the world of the story. Even the floral patterned end-papers attract attention. The result is a stunning marriage of simplicity and detail, capturing the essence of the characters with vibrant colour and movement.

One surprise follows another. For the adult reading this story, expectation is turned on its head. Not only is this a book about a mouse who likes to wear armour because she believes she’s a knight, it’s a story about a knight and a dragon who don’t fight. And where the mouse with pluck has it all over the dragon. (Or so she thinks!) For the younger reader who may or may not appreciate the subtleties of the intertextual references to fairy-tales, the literary experience will, at the very least, be a refreshing mix of the unpredictable and unanticipated.

Wonderfully postmodern, Sir Mouse to the Rescue is a laugh-out-loud parodical poke in the paunch to tradition and patriarchy. When someone calls for help from the high tower, it’s the prince who needs rescuing. And when he later asks Mouse to marry him so they can live happily ever after, Mouse says no, because she doesn’t want to become a princess and wear a dress – she’d rather be bold Sir Mouse and wear her suit of armour. Dragon is relieved too, as she’d rather have a knight as a friend than a princess. The characterisation in this book is fresh and original; unsurprising that Dirk Nielandt is a scriptwriter for Belgium television and wrote some of the scripts for the Dutch version of Sesame Street; the strength of his craft comes through in the text, which is sharp, witty and packed with irony. When Dragon dresses up as a knight for her fancy dress party and Mouse objects, having no concept of ‘dressing up’, ‘Dragon thinks something’s not quite right. It’s a fancy dress party, but no one is wearing a costume’. The hint of narcissism in Mouse’s character works well against the easy-going character of Dragon, who can be authoritative when she needs to. When Mouse decides to leave and go on a long journey, because that’s what knights do, even though Dragon cries and says she’ll be lost without her, Mouse remains adamant until ‘Dragon glares at her. “You’re abandoning me,” she says. “That’s not nice. That’s not what friends do – especially not knights.”’

Set out in five short stories with bite-size paragraphs, this text is ideally suited to the target audience of beginner readers – and would work a treat read aloud.

An entertaining and gratifying read.

Book Island 2012
(A version of this review appears in Magpies Vol 28, Issue 2, May 2013)

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