Sunday, August 16, 2009
Review of Tumtum & Nutmeg by Emily Bearn
Bearn, Emily. Tumtum & Nutmeg: Adventures Beyond Nutmouse Hall. Little, Brown, 2009.
There is a certain type of book that I return to again and again, when I'm wracked with worries or am plagued by restless mind syndrome or have just finished a scary or disturbing book. It's a genre one could call The Cozy Book, in which characters who are good and simple souls go about their good and simple lives. Oh, there are problems - but there is never any worry on the part of the reader that they won't be solved, and maybe even in time for tea. There is often tea, plus some nice cakes or biscuits, in books of this sort.
My own favorite Cozy Books are Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne - just thinking about them fills me with more warmth and sweetness than hot cocoa with whipped cream. But I think that for some children, there will be a new contender in the Cozy Book category, as Tumtum & Nutmeg is a honey of a cozy story.
It's three stories, actually, each about a long-married mouse couple named Mr. and Mrs. Nutmouse who live in extraordinary comfort and even luxury in a large manor house (mouse-sized) in the long-forgotten and blocked-off broom closet of a small and somewhat decrepit cottage. Two children, Lucy and her little brother Arthur, live there along with their poor and absentminded father - and Nutmeg (for so Mr. Nutmouse calls his wife for the exotic color of her fur) and Tumtum (named by Nutmeg for his round stomach) adopt them as foster children of sorts, mending their clothes and fixing things around the house. Eventually the human children and the two mice begin a correspondence with each other, although they never meet and in fact the children think that it's a tiny and benevolent fairy that is doing all these good deeds.
Life in Nutmouse Hall is good, but even the coziest lives occasionally encounter a spot of bother - and in these three stories it is a virulent mouse-hating aunt, imprisonment in a classroom gerbil cage, and a scary encounter with rat pirates respectively. The adventures are exciting, the mice are intrepid - and everyone always gets back home safely and soundly. Detailed, old-fashioned, British-y drawings by Nick Price add to the cozy feel.
Nutmeg wears a dress and apron and bustles in the kitchen, while Tumtum mainly eats and sits by the fire - this portrayal of not only traditional but downright outmoded gender roles is disappointing but is partly redeemed by the fact that Nutmeg is by far the more imaginative and intrepid of the pair. And as their lifestyle seems to stem from some timeless British era of tweed suits and dresses with aprons, I suppose it all makes sense. Still, I'd like to see Tumtum cooking, cleaning, or sewing up a storm while Nutmeg settles down by the fire with a glass of sherry and a book.
Tumtum & Nutmeg would make an excellent read-aloud for younger kids in K to grade 2, while older children in grades 3 - 5 - especially those beset by Worries who need a lovely, comfortable read - will find this a fine read-alone.