Friday, February 22, 2013

Book Review: The Mousehunter, by Alex Milway

     "Be sure of it," said Lovelock. "This is the last time Mousebeard gets the better of me."
     Emiline shrank back into the passageway, the word 'Mousebeard' circling endlessly through her thoughts. He was the pirate of pirates: bigger, nastier, and hairier than any other. Ever since she was tiny she'd heard horrible tales of him and the infamous mice that lived in his beard.
     With her heart beating heavily, Emiline checked the mouse in her care. It was snoring sweetly, and making occasional sleepy squeaks. Something exciting was happening – something bigger and greater than anything that normally happened to a mousekeeper. She wanted to be part of it..."

Twelve-year-old Emiline Orelia is mousekeeper for Isiah Lovelock, Old Town's most famous mouse collector and one of its wealthiest citizens. Emiline cares for her own Grey Mouse, named Portly, as well as all of the mice in Lovelock's vast collection. It's not a glamorous job, but Emiline is very good at it, and hopes one day to become a mousehunter, so she can go out and discover new and interesting mice.

In Emiline's world, collecting and trading mice is valued above all else - but these are no ordinary field mice. There is the Sharpclaw Mouse: a sneaky, mischievous mouse with huge, dagger-like claws on its front paws that can slice through even wood and metal with ease. Or the Magnetical Mouse: prized by sailors for their bulletlike nose that always points due north. Or the Howling Moon Mouse: best known of all the howler mice, it howls only on nights with a full moon. And this is only to name a few.

When Mousebeard, the most feared pirate on the Seventeen Seas, sinks Lovelock's merchant ship, Lovelock hires Captain Devlin Drewshank to hunt him down and capture him. Emiline overhears the deal and, seeing this as the chance of a lifetime, runs away and boards Drewshank's ship, excited to be on the adventure. The journey is a dangerous one, filled with pirates, and battles, and even sea monsters. And Emiline soon comes to realize that all is not exactly as she thought it was, and that no one she's met is exactly who she thought they were.

For Teachers and Librarians:
The Mousehunter is a book your students will love reading, and a book you will love for the many ways you can use it in your classes.

How about a character study? Have your students - either individually or in groups - create character trading cards for each character in the book, with an illustration of the character on one side, and on the other, list the character's motivations, personality traits, and the events in which the character has important roles, etc.

Have any map geeks in your students' midst? This story lends itself perfectly to some cartography fun: have them research maps and mapmaking from early times, and the beliefs of those who made the maps. Discuss how the cartographers' and society's beliefs dictated to some extent what went on a map (i.e. sea monsters, indications of the edge of the earth, etc.) Then have your students create a map of the world of The Mousehunter, complete with markings consistent with the beliefs of the characters and their society, notations of the places where important events occurred, and indications of the journeys taken in the book.

Pirates! No study of a piratey book is complete without some piratey lessons, now is it? Have your students compare/contrast Captain Drewshank with Captain Mousebeard, maybe presented with a skull-and-crossbones motif, or drawings of their respective ships. Complete a mini-unit on the seafaring life: types of pirate ships, parts of the ship, ship's crew and the duties of each (with special mention of the specialized crewmen created for this book's pirates), and maybe even some fun discussions/research concerning the naming of a pirate ship. And what about a quick discussion on pirates vs privateers? Cap off this mini-unit with small groups creating labeled models of Drewshank's and Mousebeard's ships, complete with crew. And of course, there's a curse. Great stuff can be found on pirates and their curse beliefs, given even a cursory bit of research. (Sorry. Couldn't help myself there...)

I'm running out of room, but there are so many more ways to go with this book: a unit on island life and its impact upon people who live there (great anthropology and/or societal connections here); the habits and behaviors of hobbyists and collectors; animal classification (Illustrated mouse trading cards! Or go one better: clay models of the mice, along with accompanying description cards.); science/scientific study of animals; animal classification/care/study; evolution/adaptation of animal species; politics and how it impacts people and society. So many ways to go. Which will you choose?

Other ideas? Feel free to list them in the comments.

For Parents, Grandparents and Caregivers:
Your kiddos will have a blast reading this book, and so will you. Besides being an exciting, mysterious, pirate-and-mouse-filled adventure, The Mousehunter has lots to think about. For example, the book has several characters who have various contradictions about them. Some are good guys with bad intentions, some are bad guys with good intentions. What is it that causes a person to be seen as "good" or "bad?" Actions? Behavior? Does how the person is perceived by others influence what/who they are? Or is it the other way around?

This book also explores themes of friendship, enemies, trust, and betrayal. How do you tell the difference between an enemy and a friend? Or is it not that black and white? Can a person be a little bit of both? What do you do when a friend that you trust lets you down? How do you feel, and what can you do about those feelings?

The Mousehunter is fun to read, with its pirates and unusual mice and such, but it also explores the sometimes complicated ways people relate to each other, and it hints that sometimes, people are not completely what they seem - which can be both good and not-so-good, depending on the situation. And don't we face things like that in real life every day? (Well, maybe not the pirates and the unusual mice...)

For the Kids:
If you like adventure on the high seas, and pirates, and mice, then this is the book for you. OK. I know what you're thinking: Did she just say high seas and pirates...and mice? Yes. Yes I did. But the seas and pirates and mice in The Mousehunter are not your average, run-of-the-mill seas and pirates and mice. Nope. See, there are seventeen seas in Emiline's world, for one thing. And for another, the pirates are mouse-obsessed - though in their defense, so is practically everybody else in their world. And the mice? Well, they're like no mice you've ever seen before - some are older than old, some are almost four feet tall, some are bloodsuckers, some have wings, and some even have magnetic noses. Throw into the mix a couple of clashing pirate captains, a very wealthy dude who isn't quite the upstanding citizen people believe him to be, and a mysterious long-ago curse, and you've got a book you will not want to put down. (So why are you still sitting here reading this? Shoo! Go find yourself a copy of The Mousehunter and get reading. Adventure awaits!)

Wrapping Up:
The Mousehunter is full of danger, intrigue, mystery, adventure, and tons of mouse-collecting, swashbuckling fun. It is a book not to be missed.

Title: The Mousehunter
Author and Illustrator: Alex Milway
Pages: 448
Reading Level: Ages 10-12
Publisher and Date: Little, Brown and Company, February 2009
Edition: First US Edition
Language: English
Published In: United States
Price: $15.99
ISBN-10: 0316024546
ISBN-13: 978-0-316-02454-9


Author Spotlight: Alex Milway

Children's author and illustrator Alex Milway was born in 1978, in Hereford, England. After entering art college in Shrewsbury at the age of 16, and then continuing to Cheltenham art college, he earned a degree in fine art.

Though he now writes and illustrates children's books full time, Mr. Milway has previously tried his hand at a few other vocations. He worked for several years in magazine publishing, once had a summer factory job building air conditioning units for Range Rovers, and worked for a time in a WHSmith.

His books to date include the Mousehunter trilogy, and the Mythical 9th Division series.

In addition to creating children's books, Alex Milway runs school events and workshops. He lives in London, England, with his wife and family and Milo the cat.

Alex Milway official site
Alex Milway author page - Faber and Faber official site
Alex Milway - Laura Cecil (literary agent) client page
Interview with an Author: Alex Milway - tall tales & short stories blog