Friday, June 27, 2008

Book Review: Stuart Little

Stuart Little by E.B. White. (Grades 3-6.)

Upon reading the book Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Little, I realized that I had not actually read Stuart Little. Of course, I set out to rectify that situation.

When Mr. and Mrs. Little's second child turned out to be a mouse, they were certainly surprised, but they set about providing for him just as they would have if he were human. Mr. Little made him a tiny bed out of a cigarette box and four clothespins. Mrs. Little made him some smart mouse-sized clothes. And life went on. Stuart turned out to be a smart, kind, hard-working mouse who liked to sail boats and fell in love with a bird named Margalo.

Coming to it as an adult, I found the whole story to be a bit weird and definitely bittersweet.

First of all, there's the fact that no one is upset or perturbed that Stuart is a mouse. Everyone - the Littles, the doctor, shopkeepers, strangers in Central Park - just accepts that there is this talking mouse wearing clothes and going about his business. Of course, the family also talks with their cat Snowbell, so there's that.

Secondly, Stuart falls in love with a bird. When Margalo is scared off by threats from local cats, Stuart sets out to find her and along the way he is introduced to a tiny human who might be a perfect match for him. No one seems perturbed that there is a two-inch human in this little town. The girl doesn't seem to mind going on a date with a mouse. The whole thing is very weird.
Thirdly, there is an invisible car. I guess the thing is that this book feels so real, so down-to-earth, that when these little fantasy things come up it feels strange to me. Obviously, the whole book is fantasy. Mice don't talk or wear little suits or sail boats. But since Stuart is just accepted into a human world, it doesn't feel like the fantasy I'm used to reading.

The whole time I was reading, I couldn't stop thinking of Stuart as a symbol... Maybe for children who are sometimes too small for the world they are living in. Maybe for any number of under-resourced populations who go up against huge obstacles just to live their lives. Ultimately Stuart gets where he is going. But while he has lots of physical obstacles, he doesn't really meet anyone who tries to stop him. No one looks up and says "Hey, you're a mouse! You can't ride the bus!"

So, I dunno... Probably I am way overthinking it and I'm sure I wouldn't have thought about it that way if I was reading it as a nine-year-old.

Overall, I'm glad I read it. I found it to be a sweet story. I wanted it to go on and on and I was disappointed when it ended because I wanted to know more about Stuart's journey. And I haven't seen the movie of Stuart Little, but I can already tell you that the white CGI mouse was NOT AT ALL how I imagined Stuart Little.

By the way, E.B. White and I share the same birthday! (Not the year, obviously.)