A couple of months ago, we added a new pet to our family. We’d made a deal with our son that if he was able to keep a small garden alive for the summer, then he would be allowed to get his first ‘solo pet’, a guinea pig. I won’t pretend for a moment that I’m not the one cleaning his cage and spending the most time with him. But I also have to admit that it’s no chore at all.

Surprisingly, this little rodent has enchanted everyone in the family, something I certainly never expected! In honor of little Flint, I’m highlighting two books this week that feature rodent protagonists.

First up is a classic, Ralph S. Mouse by Beverly Cleary. Published in 1982, this book is the last in the Ralph trilogy, with The Mouse and the Motorcycle (1965) and Runaway Ralph (1970) preceding it.

The story opens on a cozy hotel lobby on a snowy winter’s evening. Ryan is a little boy who lives at the hotel with his mother, who is the housekeeping supervisor. He has two friends at the hotel; Matt, an older man who serves as the bellman, and Ralph, a cheeky little mouse who lives under the grandfather clock in the lobby.

Ralph has a prized possession, a little motorcycle that actually runs! He rides it all over the lobby when no one is watching. But lately, he’s not been able to ride as much as he wants to. Not only are his tires wearing thin from the lobby’s carpet but he has dozens of younger relatives who are always pestering him for a chance to ride the motorcycle.  

On the evening in question, Ralph chances a ride in the lobby after most of the humans have gone to bed. He speeds through puddles left over from slush that has fallen from customer’s boots and creates a huge mess on the floor. When it’s discovered the following morning by the hotel’s manager, Matt’s job becomes threatened because it’s his responsibility to keep the lobby clean.

Realizing that his behavior could impact his friend, Ralph conspires with young Ryan to leave the hotel and take up residence at Ryan’s school instead. Not only will he stay out of trouble that creates more work for Matt, he’s certain the school will give him more space to traverse without the constant hassling from his younger relatives.

The plan is quickly put in motion, with Ralph arriving at school with Ryan that morning. Ralph is instructed to stay hidden in the front pocket of Ryan’s shirt but the day is long and the pocket is small. Ralph figures a tiny peek from the pocket can’t hurt. But of course, he’s spotted almost instantly by one of the other children. Fortunately, Ryan’s teacher Miss K is very kind and she encourages him to introduce Ralph to the class.

He’s an instant hit, with the children agreeing that he’s both cute and smart. In no time, the children devise a plan to test Ralph’s intelligence by having him run a maze he’s never seen at the end of the week. Ralph is furious when Ryan tells him that until he runs the maze, he won’t be given his motorcycle. That was the only reason he moved to the school in the first place! But what choice does he have? He’s a tiny mouse and Ryan is a boy who has possession of the motorcycle. At the end of the day, he settles into a boot in the coatroom to ride out the night alone.

Leaving school that day, Ryan is bullied by Brad, who tells him that Ralph isn’t smart, he’s dumb and there’s no way he’ll be able to run the maze on Friday. Overhearing Brad, Ralph begins to worry; what if he’s right? If he can’t find his way through, will Ryan still give him his motorcycle? After a night spent exploring the school, Ralph returns to the boot and waits for Ryan to return.

The next morning, Miss K asks the students to create portraits of Ralph. She also tasks Ryan and Brad with creating the maze together. She is hoping that they’ll become friends if they work together but in the end, Ryan ends up working on the maze alone. She informs the children that she has invited a reporter and photographer from the local paper to witness the maze run.

Friday finally arrives and the children are all abuzz with excitement. The reporter and photographer are running late but the class decides to move forward with the maze run. That clever Ralph! He does what no one expects and attempts multiple times to jump over the maze’s walls to land himself directly in the finish spot. Some of the kids see this is as a genius move. But not Brad. He decides to taunt Ryan by telling him that his name should be Ralph D. Mouse, the D standing for Dumb. This results in a short scuffle that ends in Ralph’s motorcycle being snapped in half, rendered completely useless. Heartbroken, Ralph then spends a lonely weekend at school, not understanding that the children won’t return until Monday.

On Monday morning, the children stream into the classroom absolutely aghast by what’s been written in the paper. The reporter has declared Ralph a pest; just one of many other mice infesting the school! The children are determined to set the record straight so they launch a letter writing campaign to alert the newspaper editor that the reporter got the story all wrong. In the end, the children are victorious and Ralph is vindicated!

Along the way, Ryan and Brad get to know each other better. We learn that Brad’s parents have divorced and his mother has left. He thinks that Ryan is rich because he lives in a hotel. Ryan admits that he’s jealous because Brad gets to ride to school in his father’s pickup truck, rather than a boring school bus. A chance meeting between the boys’ parents results in a happy ending for all (humans) involved.

But what of Ralph and his beloved motorcycle? It’s been broken beyond repair but certainly that can’t be the end of motorized transportation for our rascally rodent! Things may not end the way he (or we) expected but in the end, our little mouse still finds himself on the move.

Ralph S. Mouse is perfect for an independent reader or as a bedtime story read by an adult. It has themes of impulsive behaviors and how to better address them, misunderstandings that might lead to misplaced feelings and how to set things right when someone is wrongly accused. Grab this classic for a feel good story about a feisty little rodent and his pet boy. =)

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