I began reading this book with more bias than I realized. My relationship with Lowry's books is hit and miss; I admit I was prepared to dislike this book. Also, the mice and their struggle for survival kept making me think of Kate DiCamillo's Tale of Despereaux, which is one of my favorite children's books. So yes, I admit I may not have given this book a fair shake as I turned the first pages.
Let's begin with Hildegarde, the Mouse Mistress responsible for keeping her colony of mice safe in their home at St. Bartholemew. I struggled to connect with the matriarch of St. Bart's mouse colony, finding her a little too uppity and judgmental for my taste. Although she isn't my favorite heroine in the beginning of the story, it's easy to see why she's a little high-strung. Hildegarde has the difficult responsibility of keeping her large family safe, which is even more difficult now that the Feast of St. Francis is right around the corner. On this day, every animal from rabbit to horse can show up for a blessing. For the mice of St. Bart's, this has the added danger of cats prowling through their normally safe home. Hildegarde takes her job seriously, displaying unfailing courage with each challenge they face, including the Great X and the Outdoors, all which come with a wide array of dangers.
Bless This Mouse comes with several lessons; teaching seamlessly the vocabulary of a cathedral, offering opportunities for discussions about courage and kindness, all the while weaving together the story of the mice of St. Bart's. Before I realized what had happened, Lowry had pulled me in to her story, made me care about the fate of these tiny creatures, and left me smiling when I turned the final page and closed the book.
This would make an excellent bedtime story or classroom read aloud, although I was surprised by a few of the more adult tidbits -- the mice discovering a listing for "X-rated DVDs" in a phonebook, for example. The short chapters are perfect for young readers, though they will probably require help with some of the vocabulary. There are topics that can be pulled out for classroom use, however, that should not be ignored -- the food chain and how our population growth effects our ecosystem come to mind.
Bless This Mouse will be available in March of 2011 and is a great read for all ages; I'm certain I'll be adding it to my classroom library.