The Mouse of Amherst

Elizabeth Spires, Author, Claire A. Nivola, Illustrator Farrar Straus Giroux $15 (64p) ISBN 978-0-374-35083-3
The title of this fanciful sliver of a novel is a delectable double entendre, expressing the characters of both Emily Dickinson and Emmaline, a poetry-penning mouse who lodges in the wainscoting of the poet's bedroom. Emmaline, who narrates the book, considers herself ""nothing more than a crumb gatherer, a cheese nibbler, a mouse-of-little-purpose."" But as the inquisitive mouse watches Emily scribbling and scratching away on small scraps of paper for much of the day and night, a gust of wind sends one of the scraps close to her mousehole and Emmaline dashes out to retrieve it. Much to her surprise, she discovers it is a poem so moving (""I felt giddy and inspired, as if a whirligig were spinning in my brain"") that it prompts Emmaline to write a verse of her own. She returns both to Emily's desk, and soon the two are exchanging poems inspired by their experiences within the household (eight of Dickinson's, and eight written by Spires in the guise of Emmaline, are included). While Spires (With One White Wing) employs a formal 19th-century tone and vocabulary for her rodent protagonist, it is never stiff or off-putting, but filled with ardency and wit; the poems that Emmaline ""writes"" echo the style and substance of Dickinson's to a striking degree. Emmaline's newfound enthusiasm and interpretations of Dickinson's poetry will likely coincide with readers' own responses. A brief afterword with biographical information explains just how this clever novel unmasks the ""mouse"" who rarely ventured past her garden and invites readers into the work and life of one of America's most important poets. Final artwork not seen by PW. Ages 8-up. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 03/01/1999
Release date: 03/01/1999
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