Maus is at an age where she is really starting to get into having chapter books read to her. Although she still likes to look at the occasional picture, she’s able to sit and listen to a story for much longer. This is wonderful! But it also presents the problem of finding books that are both suitable for this 5-year old, and yet not so mind-numbingly boring, predictable or relatively poorly written, that reading it makes me want to throw it out the window. Many early chapter books written for the 6-8 year old set are therefore not eligible for consideration. I discovered this the hard way after reading just one popular “Thea Stilton” book to Maus. Never again. While I am sure that they are enjoyable for young readers to read themselves, they are not best suited for me to read out loud.

We had our first major success with “Tumtum and Nutmeg” by Emily Bearne.

The book we picked up at the library was a collection of three stories, beginning with one simply titled “Tumtum and Nutmeg” in which Emily Bearne begins by setting up the delightfully whimsical story of a draughty, ramshackle English cottage called ‘Rose Cottage’ where the human children Lucy, and her brother, Arthur, live with their disheveled, absent-minded father. Unbeknownst to the children, Tumtum and Nutmeg, or Mr and Mrs Nutmouse, also live within Rose Cottage. To be precise, they live in a stately, 36 room, miniature, mouse-sized mansion called Nutmouse Hall, tucked within a forgotten broom closet, itself hidden behind a large wooden dresser too heavy to move.

Life is peaceful at Rose Cottage and Tumtum and Nutmeg have taken to caring for the children. Nutmeg darns their socks and mends their clothes, while Tumtum fixes toys and the like. The children believe that a fairy has taken up residence, and they correspond with Nutmeg through letters left on the dresser. Inevitably trouble arrives one day, and in this story trouble comes in the way of dastardly Aunt Ivy, who has come to stay at Rose Cottage while exterminators rid her own apartment of mice.

The ensuing chaos involves a poisoning, plotting by Aunt Ivy, an attack by a mouse army led by the retired General Marchmouse and the eventual fleeing of Rose Cottage by Aunt Ivy in the middle of the night.

The two other stories “The Great Escape”, involving a squeamish human schoolteacher, a cage full of unsophisticated gerbils, and a group of mouse-ballerinas on pogo sticks, and the “Pirates’ Treasure”, involving a group of pirate rats, were equally enjoyable.

For us, Tumtum and Nutmeg and the other 2 stories provided just the right amount of adventure and suspense for my Maus to enjoy, and I must admit that I think I enjoyed reading the stories as much as she enjoyed listening to them.

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