Available now from Tundra Books
I kept guinea pigs as a kid. (One of mine even lived longer than a decade.) You can bet I read all of the Dick King Smith books I could get my hands on, because those books had guinea pigs in them. Even now, at twenty five, I picked up Natale Ghent's MILLHOUSE in an instant, just because the main character is a guinea pig.
Set in a pet shop (run mostly by the innattentive Weekend Boy), MILLHOUSE is the story of a guinea pig raised by a thespian who just wants to get back to the stage. He'll have to survive a hungry ferret, befriend a strange rat, and endear himself to the other animals despite his lack of a fur coat before then. Ghent's illustrations fit the book perfectly - they're cute and ever-so-slightly old fashioned. MILLHOUSE is brand new, but you could almost believe it came out twenty years ago.
As I write this review, I find myself influenced by Charlotte's recently posted questions for "mouse" fantasies:
1. If all the mice and other animal characters were people, would the plot be appreciably different? Would my emotional response be any different?I think MILLHOUSE passes. The pet shop, with its potential owners and cages, informs the actions, desires, and fears of the characters. Certainly nothing you'd expect in a story about humans. Millhouse's acting aspirations are rather more human than anything the other animals express, but he's still clearly a guinea pig. For one thing, his reaction to danger is to freeze and faint. And there isn't much clothes wearing, aside from a few props.
2. And following from that, is there any "mousiness" to the main character? If I were never told he or she was a mouse, would I suspect that there was something not-human going on? Does the fact that the rodents wear clothes and fight with swords distract me?
I thought MILLHOUSE was quite charming and perfect for the child who loves animals. It's a very quick read, suitable for reading aloud or beginning readers. (I'd say it's about the length of Beverly Cleary's THE MOUSE AND THE MOTORCYCLE.) The themes of appreciating misfits and pursuing your talent aren't pushed overly hard, and they're certainly fitting for a children's book even if they aren't revelatory.