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How Ralph S. Mouse Scarred Me for Life

July 17, 2014

*Before I dive into this post, I have to state the obvious, which is that Beverly Cleary is a national treasure.

When I was in grade school, a wise teacher assigned our class Ralph S. Mouse to read. She also included Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh on our reading list. These assignments taught me two things: one, fantasy, in middle grade, is fantastic and will help shape and stretch a child’s imagination; and two, rodents are actually short, furry people in adorable clothes.

I have always been an animal person. I have three cats, and by the time I’m forty, I hope to realize my destiny of having acquired enough to be properly categorized as a crazy cat lady. I think squirrels are cute, and I would totally rather have a bunny eat the carrots in my garden than shoo it away. I also look the other way when mice come into my basement during winter. They’re not hurting anything.

Part of all of this is because I’m a softie, but the more I think about it, the more I think that this is all Beverly Cleary’s fault! From the time I was about eight – and up until about high school age – her books were the end all, be all when it came to books. Every kid with a normal, dysfunctional family (not an oxymoron when you think about it) will connect with the Ramona books. And the idea of a talking mouse that rides a motorcycle and will be your friend? Coolest thing ever. I still remember painstakingly putting together a shoebox consisting of Ralph’s “bedroom.”

Now, however, I have a problem. Because of the way mice and other animals were personalized in books like Ralph S. Mouse and Nimh, there is a part of me that will always look at them as little people. Accordingly, this is why I was so traumatized today.

In keeping with my life goal of becoming a crazy cat lady, my fiancé and I adopted two little kittens we have named after the Parks and Recreation characters – Knope and Wyatt. We affectionately refer to Knope as our mute, bowl-legged, cross-eyed little orphan, as these are all accurate adjectives describing him. He’s very timid and certain that we want to eat his face.

Wyatt, on the other hand, is the Ted Bundy of kitties. He’s adorable and charming, but he is also a murderer with a modus operandi of always killing the same type of victim in the same location: mice. Today we equipped him with a bell collar, but this is only after a second mouse went to the great beyond.

I will admit it. I felt beyond horrible to discover Tiny Victim #2. And I’m a person who grew up in a rural area! (I’ve never been squeamish about bugs and snakes). When I tried to understand the root of my abject pity for these poor little rodents, I traced it back to literature. As a young, impressionable child, I was taught that mice have souls, cute personalities, and feelings very much like my own. Goodness, how many times did I read Ralph S. Mouse? (Then, of course, there’s the damage inflicted by Disney, what with its adorable little woodland creatures and circus animals like Dumbo). No wonder I almost shed a tear over finding a furry casualty today.

So what about you? What childhood books have forever changed your perception about something?

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Wyatt and Knope (mouse murderer featured right)

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