Margaret K. McElderry Books/Simon & Schuster Books for Children, September 2001
Illustrated by Jan Ormerod
GOODBYE MOUSIE is a book that was in my head for ages. This book came from my younger child’s love of his many rodent pets, and our dog and our cat as well — and the many pet burials in our back yard. Much of this book comes from his experience as a young child seen through my eyes. Of course, sadly, over my family’s life together as in most families, grandparents and others have died. So this book is also about the loved ones we all lose over time. This book comes from my own childhood as well.
As I try to do in all the picture books I write, I wanted to give voice to the concerns, strong feelings and even the humor surrounding a topic that is central to all children’s lives — life, loss, and death. I chose to write in the first person because I wanted young children to identify with the voice of the child in this book.
I wrote about the progression of the universal feelings around death that even young children have-first denial, then sadness, then anger, then even some humor and then, yes, some acceptance. The book concentrates on the many feelings a young child has, on the preparation for the burial and on beginning to come to terms with a major loss. The child’s preparation of the shoebox made me think of the preparation of an Egyptian mummy. The decoration of the shoebox reminded me of the decoration of a sarcophagus. The objects that “accompany” Mousie in the shoebox reminded me of all the objects that go into a sarcophagus.
For this child, he is putting in the objects as a way of “staying with” Mousie. While I was writing this book, I could picture the drawings for this. But it is Jan Ormerod’s drawings that really bring this book to life, even though it is a book about death. Jan showed the relationship between this young child and his parents, and to the mouse as well, as loving, warm and understanding. She caught what I was trying to write and say so clearly in her beautiful art.
“Harris and Ormerod admirably and successfully tackle a child’s first encounter with death, through the loss of a beloved pet. “When I woke up this morning, I tickled Mousie’s tummy. But Mousie didn’t wake up,” says the unnamed narrator, a preschool-age boy. Author and artist both possess an acute sense of the boy’s emotional trajectory. After his first outpouring of grief and anger (which Ormerod depicts in a stunning facial close-up), the boy focuses on preparations for Mousie’s funeral, busily filling the coffin with mementos and then decorating it with “wiggly stripes.” But his composure crumbles when he discovers a piece of toast missing from his plate: “Where did it go? Did it die too?” Acceptance finally comes after he and his parents bury Mousie, and it is authentically childlike: “So, maybe someday, I’ll get another mouse,” the boy says, stretched across the floor and contemplatively dawdling with Mousie’s exercise wheel. “But not just yet.” The artist’s fluid pencil lines underscore the vulnerability of the boy and the poignancy of his story. Uplifting details (the boy’s mouse slippers, a stuffed mouse toy) offer a glimmer of hope, and the solidity at the heart of her characterizations-especially in the portraits of the narrator seeking comfort from his parents — will be immensely reassuring to young readers.”
-Publishers Weekly (starred review), July 30, 2001
“Robie H. Harris walks kids through the grieving process in Goodbye Mousie. This book addresses pet loss matter-of-factly for the very young. The satisfying acts of burying Mousie and remembering his antics show children that grief is a normal feeling.”
-Teaching K-8, April, 2004
“Harris’s sensitively rendered narrative successfully tackles a child’s first encounter with death, through the eyes of a pre-school-age boy after the loss of his beloved pet. As the boy moves from anger to acceptance, Ormerod’s fluid pencil lines underscore the vulnerability of the boy and the poignancy of his story.”
-Publishers Weekly Best Children’s Books, November 5, 2001″From the best-selling author of It’s Perfectly Normal, a gently told story of loss for young children.”
-Goodbye Mousie, Death and Grieving Category, Children’s Books Mean Business 2002, Find Comfort in Books: The Right Book at the Right Time list
“A little boy’s pet mouse dies, and he and his family cope, in this gently done true-life tale by a team that has such an elegant grasp of the workings of the minds and hearts of children. A little boy fiercely denies that his pet mouse is dead, despite his father’s remonstrations, and then he gets mad at Mousie, and finally sad. The boy and his parents put Mousie in a box with some of his favorite things-carrots, a piece of jam toast, and a toy or two-and make a headstone for him out of driftwood. Readers can hear the boy working things out for himself, that Mousie won’t ever come back, that grief and longing are what he feels. And in the last frame, where he plays with Mousie’s wheel and a toy mouse while wearing his mouse slippers, he thinks about getting another mouse-”But not just yet.” Ormerod makes her images from a close-up, child-high perspective, with a fresh, clean palette: her headshot of the child bawling wildly at the realization of the truth of Mousie’s demise is touching and tender, as is the gentle comfort of his father…Not since The Tenth Good Thing About Barney (1971) has there been such an affecting and satisfying story about the death of a pet.”
-Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 2001
“A little boy’s pet mouse dies. Sensitive narration and charming illustrations.”
-The Best Children’s Books of the Year 2002, Children’s Book Committee at Bank Street College of Education
“Robie Harris has written refreshingly frank books for kids that discuss birth and sex. Now, in Goodbye Mousie, with the help of wonderful illustrations by Jan Ormerod, Harris deals with the end of life. The endpapers show a spirited white mouse eating, scampering, and generally enjoying life. As the story begins, however, Mousie doesn’t respond to his customary morning tickle and our young narrator is worried enough to bring Mousie to his father for an explanation. When his father explains that Mousie is dead, the child is furious. The child then moves through all the stages of grief, from denial to final acceptance, in one agonizing day. The parents are sympathetic and help him through his grief. This book belongs in every early childhood classroom, but please don’t share it with a child who is reeling from the unexpected death of a pet. At that moment, and for some time afterward, the child needs not a book, but a person who will listen and understand. Later, when the first stages of grief are worked through — or, even better, before a child must confront similar losses — a book like this should be shared and talked about. It’s extremely well done.”
-Carol Otis Hurst, Teaching K-8, January 2002
“One morning, Mousie doesn’t wake up…What’s remarkable about this story — in addition to the good fortune of Jan Ormerod’s illustrations–is its explicitness and its patience with the long process of the little boy’s grieving for Mousie…In this book, Mousie is “dead,” and the little boy is angry, crabby, bored and forgetful, variously. Mousie is laid to rest in a shoebox with crayons, carrots, four grapes and a candy bar, but, in the meantime, the little boy is cross to discover that his mother has eaten the rest of his toast. The father isn’t afraid to say he doesn’t know why Mousie died not to state boldly that Mousie had a good life. This book is a parent’s friend.”
-Mary Harris Russell, The Chicago Tribune, October 29, 2001
“This tender story tackles a difficult subject in a loving manner… A preschooler wakes up one morning to find his pet mouse has died during the night. His father gently explains what has happened and although the boy’s first reaction is anger at the mouse for leaving him, his anger soon turns into inconsolable tears. Ormerod does a superb job of portraying the protagonist’s shifting emotions in a series of charcoal and watercolor drawings. The boy’s parents lead him through the process of saying farewell by allowing him to plan the mouse’s burial. Harris presents an authentic portrayal of a child’s myriad emotions in dealing with the death of a loved one. A must-have book for therapists and counselors, as well as for parents needing to guide a child through a period of bereavement.”
-Maria Otero-Boisvert, “Criticas,” April 24, 2004
“…An honest and ultimately comforting look at the death of a pet. When Mousie doesn’t wake up one morning, his young owner at first refuses to believe that the animal is dead. After listening to his father’s gentle comments, the boy finally realizes the truth, reacting first with anger, then with sadness, and then with questions about why the mouse died. With the help of his parents, the youngster places his pet in a shoebox, tucks an old T-shirt around him, and then carefully chooses several special items to keep him company. He tapes the box shut, decides that it looks too plain, and decorates it with swirling painted lines. Outside, after he and his parents bury the shoebox, he cries a bit and then says good-bye to his friend. By the final double-page spread, he has found some closure and acknowledges that Mousie won’t be coming back. He thinks about getting another mouse, “But not just yet.” Told from the boy’s point of view, the straightforward story genuinely captures the voice of a young child, and accurately reflects a natural grieving process. Set against pleasing buff-colored backgrounds, the artwork, done in black-pencil line and watercolor washes, echoes the emotional nuances of the story. Featuring soft lines and subdued shades, Ormerod’s understated art suits the subject matter, and the pictures express the child’s changing feelings without upstaging or overpowering them. An excellent choice to help young readers deal with loss.”
-Joy Fleishhacker, School Library Journal, September 2001, October 2001
“When a small boy is told his pet mouse is not sleeping, but is dead, he won’t believe it. With the help of his family he understands that it is OK to feel angry and sad when someone dies. The gifts for mouse, put into the shoe box, underline the fun the pair of them had when the mouse was alive. The whole book is a wonderfully written and illustrated story about life and death.”
-Enid Stephenson, Carousel, 2001