The Mousehole Cat


Barber, Antonia (1990). The Mousehole Cat. London: Walker Books.

(Reprinted in 1996 by Aladdin Paperbacks, a division of Simon & Schuster)

The Mousehole Cat, written by Antonia Barber and illustrated by Nicola Bayley, was inspired by an old Cornish legend. Mowzer the cat lives happily with her “pet”, Tom, who is “very well-behaved” (p.7). Not only does Tom keep her saucer full of cream, and the wood stove well stoked, but he passes his days “in the most useful way possible”: catching fish for Mowzer’s dinner (p.7). When the villagers of Mousehole are unable to send out their fishing boats, it appears the children will go hungry and just before Christmas. Tom, whose children are grown, and parents long gone, decides that he’s the most logical choice to risk his life to bring back fish for the village. Mowzer chooses to join him:

“For he was only a man, she thought, and men were like mice in the paws of the Great Storm-Cat” (p.14).

Listening to the Great Storm-Cat’s wailing, she imagines him to be lonely, “endlessly hunting the men-mice in the deeps of darkness, and never returning to the rosy glow of a red-hot fire” (p.18). To comfort him, she serenades him with her singing… and it works. While they are still in for a tumultuous ride, Mowzer and Tom will return home a boat laden with fish.

Back in the village the townspeople realize what Tom is doing for them and they wait:

“All day they had watched and waited, staring out into the cloud-wracked sea, but they could see no sign of him. And when night fell, the women went home and set candles in all their windows and every man lit his lantern and went down to the harbor walls.” (p.26)

I love the illustrations in this book. The paintings tell the story so beautifully that once they’ve heard it, younger children can relive the adventure simply by looking at them. Rarely does a picture book combine such lyrical prose with so natural a rising climax. Its simple story of valor and loyalty is sure to enthrall the five to eight year olds it is marketed for. It is no surprise that it holds the honors of being both an ALA Notable Children’s Book and Booklist Editor’s Choice in 1990. The Mousehole Cat┬áis sure to live in reader’s and listener’s memories for years to come.


Top Ten Picks for Toddlers


As a homeschooling mom of six and an early intervention provider for more than twenty years, I have held more board books in my hand than almost anyone- save perhaps those stocking the shelves at Barnes & Noble. Before I list some wonderful titles, I’d like to provide you with a crash course in toddlers and books.

  • A six month old will eat a book.
  • A nine month old will explore the mechanics of turning board book pages.
  • A twelve month old will look at pictures in a book.
  • A fifteen month old will point to pictures in a book.
  • An eighteen month old will name pictures of familiar objects and animals in books.
  • A twenty-one month old will turn paper pages and name even more.
  • A twenty-four month old realizes there is more to books than just pictures.
  • A twenty-seven month old is beginning to enjoy hearing familiar picture books read.
  • A thirty month old will listen to a picture book story for five minutes.
  • A thirty-six month old will fill in familiar words and phrases in picture book stories.


This, of course, is just a reference point for typical learners. Some children will be more interested in books than others, and consequently will explore them earlier or later. Up until about eighteen or twenty-one months of age, books that allow children to recognize and learn the names of new objects and animals are the way to go, starting with those that only have one on each side of the page. Once they are consistently pointing to pictures of single objects, books with five or six photos on a page allow them to learn scanning. At around a year and a half to two years, short picture book stories can be shared. Super short books can be read to a child whose attention span is only about two minutes, and can be a great way to start. Stories that can be read rhythmically should be, because all language has rhythm and cadence. Books that actually have a plot will be better understood by a two and a half year old, and humor in books may not be recognized by kids until they are closer to three.


So without further ado, my recommendations for a two year old’s library are as follows:

Alborough, Jez (2000). Hug. Somerville, Massachusetts: Candlewick Press.

Brown, Margaret Wise (2007). Goodnight, Moon. New York, NY: HarperFestival.

Henderson, Kathy (1998). Counting Farm. Somerville, Massachusetts: Candlewick Press.

Horacek, Petr (2008). Choo Choo. London: Walker Books Ltd.

Martin, Bill Jr. (1996). Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company.

Rathmann, Peggy (1994). Goodnight Gorilla. New York, NY: G.P. Putnam’s Sons.

Rosen, Michael (1989). We’re Going on a Bear Hunt. New York, New York: Scholastic Inc., by arrangement with Little Simon.

Spinelli, Eileen (2001). When Mama Comes Home Tonight. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.

Stickland, Paul and Henrietta (1997).Dinosaur Roar. New York, NY: Dutton Children’s Books.

Stickland, Paul (2006). One Bear, One Dog. Wincanton Somersat, UK: Backpack Books by arrangement with Ragged Bears Publishing Ltd.