________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 7 . . . . November 24, 2006


Murphy and Mousetrap. (Orca Young Readers).

Sylvia Olsen.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2005.
122 pp., pbk., $7.95.
ISBN 1-55143-344-3.

Subject Headings:
Moving, Household - Juvenile fiction.
Métis children - Juvenile fiction.
Cats - Juvenile fiction.
Soccer stories - Juvenile fiction.

Grades 4-6 / Ages 9-11.

Review by Saache Heinrich.

*** /4


“Where were you guys?” Levi asked when four more boys joined the group.

“Getting here,” said a tall boy with long hair. 

“We wanna see the new kid play goalie.”

“Yeah, we hear he’s really good,” another boy added. Jeff motioned toward Murphy with his chin. 

“That’s him,” he said. “He’s my cousin.”
“That white kid?” the long-haired boy asked. “He’s your cousin?”

Blood rushed into Murphy’s cheeks. His throat felt like a dry sponge. He choked down his breath. Kids on the school bus called him white kid and white boy and whitey. He had been called other names as well, like honky, which he thought might have something to do with being white. The words were usually said in a way that made Murphy feel bad inside. No one had said anything about him being white when he lived in the city. But there were people of all colors there. Here he stuck out like a red banana.

Murphy Jones is a nine-year-old boy who lives in a British Columbia city with his mother and his beloved cat, Mousetrap. His mother is First Nations, and his Caucasian father, whom he has never met and doesn’t know much about, lives in another province. Murphy’s quiet life consists of going to school, collecting rocks, spending time on his computer and playing with his cat. All this is interrupted when his mother announces that she has accepted a new job that will bring a move back to the land where she is from, the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation reserve.

     Much of the story relates the experiences of both Murphy and his mother adjusting to their new home in Grandma’s basement as well as a new job and school. One of Murphy’s biggest concerns is for his cat Mousetrap who has led quite a sheltered life as a silky, white-haired indoor cat in the city. It doesn’t take too long for Mousetrap to join the other cats on the reserve and lie about in the mud, dirtying his beautiful silky hair, but Murphy’s acceptance of his new home is more reluctant. He realizes that the reserve is a good place for his cat and a good place for his mother, but he still feels that it isn’t a good place for him. When Murphy is challenged to join the other boys on the soccer field, he quickly proves himself to be a great goaltender. Just as Mousetrap adjusted to a new lifestyle roaming free on the reserve grounds with the other cats, Murphy, too, eventually becomes accustomed to life on the reserve and finds self-confidence, acceptance and respect amongst his new friends through his involvement in soccer.

     Sylvia Olsen aptly conveys the feelings of a child relocating to a new community and school. Murphy sticks out like a sore thumb, having inherited his father’s blond hair and fair skin. This “visibility,” combined with being “the new kid,” causes Murphy to become the brunt of bullying.  When he joins the boys in their soccer practice and is put in goal, he blocks every attempt that is made and is soon a valuable asset to the team. The author has created a likeable and sensitive protagonist in Murphy, and her descriptive depiction of the soccer playing and goaltending has the reader rooting for him and anticipating his ability and performance at the big tournament.

     This book is an excellent way of introducing children to life on an First Nation reserve. Olsen describes a land where “all the houses around Grandma’s place belonged to [Murphy’s] aunties and uncles … [where] there were no apartment buildings, gas stations, streetlights or sidewalks … no McDonalds … [not] even a school nearby.” This accessible chapter book allows readers a glimpse at another perspective in Canadian life. Common stereotypes of Indian reserves are challenged by having positive characters with a strong sense of community and family and children who are just as involved in a team sport as are children who are living in a larger community.

     Native-Canadian artist Darlene Gait provides the pencil illustrations for this book. Her style is influenced from her Coast Salish-First Nations culture, and her illustrations lend themselves very well in connecting the art to the text. One particularly delightful illustration is of Murphy’s mom holding an incredibly dirty Mousetrap who displays such a look of misery on his feline face!

     The cover illustration shows a blond-hair, blue-eyed Murphy positioned as the keeper at the goal with the other boys muddily within play. Reserve houses and cars are in the distance, behind the goalie net. This illustration allows the reader a glimpse into Murphy’s life on the reserve and to observe the obvious physical differences between Murphy and his teammates. 

     With soccer one of the most popular sports amongst young people in Canada today, this story will appeal to boys and girls alike. The cover art will be visually appealing to young boys, and reluctant readers will also find the multitude of themes appealing.

     A Saskatchewan Young Readers’ Choice Awards (SYRCA) Diamond nominee book for 2006.


Saache Heinrich is a Children’s Librarian at the Saskatoon Public Library in Saskatoon, SK.


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

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