A librarian friend sent my daughter a bunch of discarded library books last year. (I often find the best children’s books are discarded by libraries.) Among that batch was the The 14 Forest Mice and The Summer Laundry Day, by Kazuo Iwamura. It’s a story of a family of mice who pack up and take their laundry to the river to wash. The mama mouse knows why her children are rushing–they’re excited for the accompanying swim. Along the way, gorgeous illustrations walk the reader past delicately-rendered dragonflies and foliage. Reading it feels like a hike in the woods.
My daughter loved this book almost as much as I did. Quickly I looked for the other books in this series: there’s one for each season. Finding affordable copies of the 1991 English translations by MaryLee Knowlton was a slight challenge. I eventually found all three of the others, on eBay and abebooks.com. Today, the winter book came, completing our collection.
I love how this series shows the mice making sleds and indoor games to pass the time during a blizzard, or forging a platform to watch the harvest moon in autumn, or rice dumplings for a spring picnic. The illustrations make me feel like I’ve been out in nature: colors rich and vibrant, drawings not just of “flowers” but true species. The wood violets look like wood violets. I also love how the series can give a child a sense of the year’s cycles, and a focus on the natural world. The mice create things by using curiosity and invention, and the materials around them.
The stories are elegant and simple, and illustrate how to live in harmony with nature. The large family (grandmother and grandfather on down to a toddler) works together to do the stuff of life, the maintaining of home. Though somewhat hard to find, if you are seeking books that show kids something other than our consumer-based culture, it’s worth the search. Let me know what you think of them.