Written and Illustrated by Beatrix Potter
Frederick Warne & Company, 1904
Once upon a time there was a very beautiful doll’s-house; it was red brick with white windows, and it has real muslin curtains and a front door and a chimney.
The plot in a nutshell: Two mice visit a dollhouse and vandalize it when they realize none of the things inside are real.
This is a book that I remember from my kids’ childhood days. One year, for Easter, they all got Beatrix Potter books in their Easter baskets and one of them got this one. It was a favorite of mine to read to them, mostly because the female mouse is named Hunca Munca and that is just an awesome name to say aloud. Plus, the story is very cute and has a very gratifying ending, in which the bad mice get to redeem themselves a bit. And Ms. Potter’s illustrations are always delightful.
The dollhouse is ‘owned’ by two dolls and when they step out for a ride in the pram, the mice (Hunca Munca and her husband, Tom Thumb) break in hoping for a free meal. When they find that everything is made of plaster, they smash the plates and furniture, throw dresses out the window and steal some of the cookware and the feather bolster from the bed. The dolls are shocked when they return and the little girl who truly owns the house places a police doll at the house’s entrance. But the mice aren’t all bad – Tom Thumb tries to pay for the things he stole with a coin he finds and Hunca Munca shows up every day to clean the house.
This story got its start when Ms. Potter rescued two mice from a trap in her cousin’s kitchen. She named them Tom Thumb and Hunca Munca and kept them as pets and models for her drawings. She even had a glass-fronted mouse house with a ladder, where she could watch how they moved, in order to draw them more accurately. She wrote this story as one of three and chose this one as the first to develop and publish. There are definite themes of rebellion against domesticity, which reflect some of the opinions of Ms. Potter at this time in her life. It’s also noteworthy that this story was responsible for her first fan letter from America.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that everyone has moments of ‘bad,’ but it doesn’t have to define who you are.