Personally I haven’t watched the film of the same name, despite being a huge Hugh Laurie fan. So even though I knew of the book, I did not know quite what I was in for.
The short answer? A very strange, occasionally outlandish mish-mash of ideas set in “chapters as a short story” style.
Mr and Mrs Frederick C. Little become parents to their second son, Stuart. No, it does not read as though he is adopted by them. He is two inches tall, and looks like a mouse. Well, seriously he is a mouse. That was only the start of the strangeness. He has an older brother, George, who seems to have impulse/destruction issues and a family cat called Snowball, who I think would have done us all a favour if he had managed to let a cat-friend put an end to Stuart.
There follows a series of misadventures, often with Stuart being careless with other people’s property and those people being completely and unexplainably okay about it.
Now don’t get me wrong, I understand that you need to suspend disbelief when you read children’s books. But I’m not so sure about some of the discrepancies that you have to ignore in order to continue reading. Fine. Little children probably won’t even notice, but I can tell you it grated as the adult reading this aloud. The writing didn’t even reprieve it.
I have taken the only two passages out of the whole book that I feel are well written. They both appear in the thirteenth chapter near the end of the book. One is a joy to read and Miss Oh asked for it to be repeated several times. So here they are:
In the loveliest town of all, where the houses were white and high and the elm trees were green and higher than the houses, where the front yards were wide and pleasant and the back yards were bushy and worth finding out about, where the streets sloped down to the stream and the stream flowed quietly under the bridge, where the lawns ended in orchards and the orchards ended in fields and the fields ended in pastures and the pastures climbed the hill and disappeared over the top toward the wonderful wide sky, in this loveliest of all towns Stuart stopped to get a drink of sarsaparilla.
I thought this was wonderfully evocative of the time period the book was written in and despite being one of the longest sentences I have read in a while, I really liked it.
Now for the jaunty passage that the little Miss enjoyed.
“Have you got any sarsaparilla in your store?” asked Stuart. “I’ve got a ruinous thirst.”
“Certainly,” said the storekeeper. “Gallons of it. Sarsaparilla, root beer, birch beer, ginger ale, Moxie, lemon soda, Coca Cola, Pepsi Cola, Dipsi Cola, Pipsi Cola, Popsi Cola, and raspberry cream tonic. Anything you want.”
The unfortunate result of reading this is that I now have a fear of heading into the renowned classic, Charlotte’s Web.