Charles de Lint,
What the Mouse Found & Other Stories
(Subterranean Press, 2008)

It was a night of moonlight and silver, when the grass stalks whispered quietly to each other in the Big Field and clouds like tall ships sailed across the sky.

That's the opening sentence of What the Mouse Found & Other Stories, a slim new volume from Charles de Lint, published by Subterranean Press. If you think it sounds like the start of a children's tale, be sure to pat yourself on the back for cleverness and insight -- that's exactly what it is.

But with de Lint, you can usually count on stories within stories, and in this case, there's a wonderfully personal touch to the tales. De Lint's wife, the lovely and talented MaryAnn Harris, is an accomplished seamstress and toymaker, and these short stories were written by Charles to accompany some of the toys she made nieces, nephews and the children of friends. (Of special note here is niece Kmoré, who graces the cover in a classic frog-kissing pose.) All of the stories were written in the 1980s, back when de Lint was just finding his storyteller's voice, and about half were never before published; none have been collected until now.

De Lint notes in his introduction, "Kissing Frogs," the influence of A.A. Milne and Kenneth Grahame on these stories, a connection that is readily apparent. Here, toys come to life, the wind plays and spirits come down from trees, all to the delight of de Lint's young protagonists.

Photos of MaryAnn's creations accompany the text. So, when Sophie -- who lives in the city but dreams in the Branching Wood -- makes friends with Bunnypaws in "What the Mouse Found," you know the rabbit in this tale looks just like the flopsy toy that MaryAnn made and is pictured within. And when Christine shares a cookie with the hedge gnome Tomkin Furley in "Gnomin' in the Gloamin'," the wizened figure perched on a tree limb in another photo suits the story to a T. Oakey Bedokey comes to life in more ways than one, as does Maple Sugar, who only looks like a doll from one point of view.

"Tip & the Lion," the only story without an accompanying photo, provides a whole new mythology behind the zoology of ocean waves. For readers who purchase the deluxe limited edition of the book, there's a bonus tale, "The Songs of Timothy Tomtit."

The stories are very short, easy to digest and easily read aloud. Though brief, they are filled with the rich imagery and almost-alive characterizations that are to be expected in de Lint's writing. So don't be surprised if, while reading, you feel a light breeze tickle your feet, hear the crunch of leaves and far-off voices or smell, just at the edge of imagination, a fresh chocolate-chip cookie.

De Lint has released a whole library of books aimed at adults and young adults, but his kid-oriented work is more rare. What the Mouse Found & Other Stories is a treasure for parents and children's librarians -- but also will find a happy home with anyone who holds a soft place in his or her heart for the wonders of childhood.

When you're touched by magic, nothing's ever quite the same again. What really makes me sad is all those people who never have the chance to know that touch. They're too busy, or they just don't hold with make-believe, so they shut the door without really knowing it was there to be opened in the first place.
- from "Tip & the Lion"

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review by
Tom Knapp

5 April 2008

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