________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 21 . . . . June 23, 2006


Little Downy: The Story of a Field Mouse.

Catharine Parr Traill. Illustrated by Eleanor Andrew. Edited by Ruth Bradley-St-Cyr.
Embrun, ON: Winding Trail Press, 2005.
92 pp., pbk., $12.95.
ISBN 0-9733632-0-7.

Subject Heading:
Mice-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 2-5 / Ages 7-10.

Review by Ellie Contursi.

*** /4


"Mama, you know that nice plum cake you gave me for saying my lesson? I put it in the cupboard to save it for later and I came just now to take a little nibble at it. But when I opened the door there was an ugly brown mouse in the cupboard and hardly a scrap of my cake left. That greedy thing had eaten it! All but a few crumbs." And here Alfred's tears flowed afresh.

"I am very sorry, my dear child, that the mouse has eaten your cake. Still, I do not think it is worth shedding so many tears about. You must learn to bear such trifling disappointments with more patience. I dare say, the mouse has eaten a great deal of my sugar and cakes, yet I shall not cry if he has."

"I am sure it is enough to make anyone cry," said Alfred angrily. "I only wish that I could have killed the little beast for stealing my cake. I should not mind half so much, if I could be revenged on it."

Little Downy is the story of a sweet little brown field mouse. Set in the 1800's, the tale begins, not with Downy, but with a young boy, Alfred, who discovers that a mouse has eaten his plum cake, a treat he's been looking forward to after working hard at his lesson. Alfred is disgusted that an "ugly brown mouse" has selfishly eaten his well-earned dessert. Alfred wishes for the opportunity to kill the mouse to punish it for eating his cake. Reluctantly, his mother sets a mouse trap and inevitably kills the culprit. These harsh comments and actions of Alfred's prompt his mother to tell him the story of Little Downy.
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     Downy is one of four field mice who live in a wheat stack. Many tragedies befall our heroine in her life story. Almost immediately, she loses her brothers, sisters and her mother to the dogs sent to kill any mice living in the wheat. Downy lives to find herself alone in a big world. Not one to give up, Downy industriously makes a home for herself again and again and successfully survives on her own. Downy finally meets a mate named Skillet and becomes a mother herself. Alas, her children are very mischievous and live short lives as a result. Only one mouse, Velvet, remains, and she learns quickly that getting into mischief can only cause certain death. Sadly, even Skillet meets his maker and is caught in a trap while foraging for food. Velvet and Downy continue to live contentedly until one day Downy is injured by a cat. Velvet takes it upon herself to provide for her and wishes to make her final days good ones. When Downy is particularly unwell one day, Velvet decides to steal into the nearby house to see what treat she can find for her mother. She is excited to find some plum cake (very like Alfred's) to take to her mother, knowing it will please her. Regretfully, little Velvet never returns with the cake and is killed in a mouse trap. Downy then dies of grief knowing Velvet is gone forever.

     Known as one of Canada's earliest authors for adults, Catharine Parr Traill does clever work in this moral children's story. Little Downy is a well-told tale that clearly frowns upon cruelty to animals. Parr Traill does not gloss over the sometimes brutal world of animals. Editor Ruth Bradley-St-Cyr explains in her “Afterword” that she wanted to make the story of Little Downy easier for youth to read. She clarifies that, in that time period, authors wrote in long sentences and used difficult vocabulary. In her job as editor, she did shorten some sentences, broke the story into chapters and changed some of the more difficult vocabulary. However, she tried to keep the story as original as possible for the reader. Eleanor Andrew's black and white illustrations capture Little Downy and her world very well. An enjoyable book!


Ellie Contursi is a librarian in London, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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