Mousenet is a middle grade novel written by Prudence Breitrose and lightly illustrated by Stephanie Yue. The premise has oodles of kid-appeal. Mice have learned to read, and to use human computers (though it takes a whole team of mice to accomplish anything using a full-size PC). When a quirky inventor in Cleveland invents a teeny, tiny laptop (dubbed the Thumbtop), mice spring into action. They enlist the inventor's niece, Megan, in their quest to put "a Thumbtop in every mousehole" so that they can stand beside humans as the next intelligent species.
The mouse society and hierarchy in Mousenet is fully fleshed out, and quite entertaining. The mice have figured out a way to travel by Greyhound bus (though this remains rare). They use sign language to communicate. Because they have eyes everywhere, they are able to intervene with humans in surprising ways. They have their own, hidden internet (Mousenet). They are based in Silicon Valley, for a completely logical reason. This whole shadow society of secretly smart rodents calls to mind books like Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (which I now want to re-read) and Malcolm at Midnight.
The early part of the book is told from a third person (er, mouse) mouse perspective, which I particularly enjoyed. In fact, I found it a bit jarring when, in the middle of chapter two, things shifted to Megan's perspective. After that, things shift back and forth between mouse and human viewpoints. Here's an example of the mouse point of view:
"The mice felt more hopeful about picking up clues to the megging's wildness later that afternoon, after the big female had spent some time doing things to food that they'd never seen happen in this kitchen--slicing, steaming, chopping, mixing. When the girl and her uncle came in to eat, the mice looked anxiously at their inventor to see how he'd react, because the dishes that the big female had put on the table didn't look at all like his usual dinner, which tended to be either delivered or thawed." (Chapter 2)
I understand that it wouldn't have been possible to tell the entire story from the perspective of the mice (or certainly it would have been quite difficult), but I personally enjoyed the mouse point of view more than Megan's. Megan is a perfectly nice character, with passions and quirks of her own, but the mouse viewpoint is more unique.
Anyway, the plot in Mousenet moves along quickly. There isn't really a bad guy in the book, but Breitrose finds other sources of conflict (like the need to keep the existence of the mouse society hidden). I particularly liked the way the author developed the relationship between Megan and her step-cousin Joey, slowly and with friction along the way.
My one complaint, story-wise, is that I felt that the author's anti-global warming message came on a bit too strong at times. Not that there's anything wrong with the message itself, but towards the end of the book it comes perilously close to dominating the story. By making environmentalism a central trait of Megan's character, the author keeps things in hand, but only just barely. But I have admittedly very finely honed radar when it comes to messages inserted into fiction. Most young readers delving into Mousenet today will probably be fine with this aspect of the book.
Yue's black and white pencil illustrations are generally small in size, and are found about once per chapter. I found them helpful in visualizing Megan (who has unusual hair that's hard to describe), and of course in picturing the intrepid mice. There are also mouse silhouettes included atop the large-format first letter of each chapter. Emails integrated in with the text also add visual variety. Together, these visual elements of the book help make it non-intimidating to younger middle grade readers.
Mousenet has a premise that kids will find hard to resist, coupled with strong characters, and a "working together to save the world" ethos. There is humor as well as high tech. Oh, and there's a sequel, Mousemobile, coming this fall. Kids who enjoy stories about secretly intelligent animals, and/or who find the idea of a mouse using a computer delightful, will definitely want to give this one a look. Suitable for ages 8 and up (or younger, especially if read aloud).
Publisher: Hyperion Books for Children (@DisneyHyperion)
Publication Date: November 8, 2011 (picture book edition released February of 2013)
Source of Book: Review copy from the author
FTC Required Disclosure:
This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).