By Jeff Smith
32 pages, color
Published by Toon Books
One of the things I appreciated about Toon Books’s line-up from the very beginning was that their books for children are all targeted at different age ranges. For the youngest readers, they’ve already released two books in a landscape (9×6") format, Jack and the Box by Art Spiegelman, and Silly Lilly and the Four Seasons by Agnes Rosenstiehl. With Jeff Smith’s Little Mouse Gets Ready, though, the bar for Toon Books’s ages 4-and-up books has most definitely been raised.
The story is a simple one—Little Mouse’s mother tells him that they’re all going to head to the barn to play. So, excited at the idea of a trip to the barn, Little Mouse gets ready for his trip by getting dressed. It’s adorable, with Little Mouse explaining each piece of clothing and what he thinks about them. I had to laugh when Little Mouse points out that underwear has the tag in the back, only to follow up with the note that you also need to get your tail through the hole in the back as well. His struggling with the buttons on his shirt was almost startling to me in how much it suddenly brought back old memories. I guess being a little kid and having trouble with buttons is near-universal. At the same time, Little Mouse also talks about all the fun things he likes to do at the barn, and it’s easy to see these words inspiring the imaginations of little kids.
Smith’s art is as beautiful as always. I love that he can shift from a book meant for adults like Rasl to something as sweet and innocent as Little Mouse Gets Ready and have both be recognizably his art, even while they’re tackled in very different ways. Little Mouse Gets Ready lives in no small part on the expressiveness of its star. From the eagerness of Little Mouse’s face as he runs off to get his clothes, to the careful concentration of pulling on a sock, every moment just sings in cuteness. When Little Mouse pauses after the first shirt button and wipes off his brow, well, it’s hard to not feel a little proud for how hard Little Mouse is working to get ready for the trip to the barn.
Little Mouse Gets Ready is just the right length for younger readers, as well as their parents. It has a cute story, it moves well towards the funny conclusion, and Smith’s art is just exquisite. This is exactly the sort of book for very small readers that I want to see from Toon Books, and they’ve delivered perfectly. It’s not just a great children’s book, it’s also a good introduction to reading comics in general. Using the landscape format, some of the pages are divided up into two panels—one next to the other—and young readers will have it come naturally to them in its simple, uncluttered format. If Smith ever wants to create another children’s book, I know I’ll be buying it too. Little Mouse Gets Ready is scheduled for a September 2009 release.