“In this gloriously unruly feminist fable, The True Story of a Mouse Who Never Asked for It explores the power of art-making, the tedium of the domestic, and the dangers of heteronormativity, all within beautiful pictures and tender words. I was enchanted by the pairing of graphic illustration and tight prose on every page. It is luminous and evocative from start to finish.” —Alisson Woods, author of Being LolitaFolklorist Ana Cristina Herreros and visionary illustrator Violeta Lópiz spin a deeply feminist retelling of an old Spanish folktale in The True Story of a Mouse Who Never Asked for It. Through rhythmic text, highly conceptual illustrations, and a final visual narrative that is silent but revelatory, this YA picture book builds from deceptive simplicity to an explosive end.
The story begins with a mouse, very neat and hard-working, who makes herself a home. In disbelief that she has a house but isn’t a wife, suitors show up uninvited, each asking for her hand. She turns everyone down… until a pack of tiny kittens arrive, and she agrees to marry the smallest and most defenseless of the bunch. But it does every mouse well to remember that a kitten always grows up to be a cat.
Today, the most commonly told version of this popular folktale serves as a warning, scaring girls to choose good men to marry by reminding them that the cat will always devour the mouse. But this story is rooted in the non-normative, non-performative original version, before it became a cautionary tale.
Here, by contrast, the story tells of the pain and harm that come from falling prey to situations beyond one’s control. It is also a powerful story of reclaiming one’s selfhood.
“A traditional folktale is reworked into a feminist parable. Deceptively simple, midcentury-style illustrations use a muted color palette of red, blue, gray, beige, white, and black to focus on the details of domestic objects before widening the lens to the bigger picture: … a powerful wordless finale of double-page, full-bleed spreads shows a brown-skinned, black-haired woman in a white dress cleaning up and moving on from the aftermath of a violent disturbance in her apartment.” —Kirkus Reviews
★ “The first book from Enchanted Lion’s new imprint centering innovative picture books for older readers, this retelling of a Balearic folktale strips out the moralizing and revives a story of startling violence and insight. When a small, white, red-eyed mouse, ‘very neat and very hardworking,’ finds a coin, she buys a cabbage and builds a house for herself out of it. She’s subsequently pursued by a series of suitors attracted by her character and her property; after rejecting donkeys, ducks, and cats as too raucous, she marries the ‘kitten that seemed the most defenseless’—with predictably disastrous consequences. Bold illustrations in neutrals, blood red, and royal blue tell a parallel story that operates as an interpretive cipher and the narrative’s key… The book’s brilliance lies in its intriguing disjunction between word and image. As the narrative advances, accompanied by images of domestic and personal objects instead of donkeys and ducks, the solution to the illustrated puzzle reveals a nuanced feminist interpretation of the original folktale, and the promise of healing through autonomous creative fulfillment.” —STARRED REVIEW, Publishers Weekly
“This collaboration between writer Ana Cristina Herreros and artist Violeta Lópiz takes on a haunting quality as it progresses. At times, the linkage between words and images is clear; at others, what seems at first to be a kind of dissonance takes on greater weight. I’m not quite sure how to classify this, but I do know that it works.” —Tobias Carroll, for Words Without Borders
“This young adult version of a Spanish folk tale redefines what picture books can be… The title itself is a provocation: shifting like a holograph, arch to earnest, depending on the angle from which you look. In [folklorist Ana Cristina Herreros’s] hands, the story’s sturdy heart is a female mouse who dares to make a snug home for herself alone. She then faces a succession of presumptuous suitors drawn to her ready-made house, animal swains depicted variously as folding chairs, paper fans and scissors—all objects that can be tucked tidily away, or made to extravagantly, even dangerously, take up space. The text is as rhythmic and spare as the oldest fairy tales, its water-cool tone contrasting eerily with the mouse’s escalating peril. Playing off Herreros’s words (translated from the Spanish by Chloe Garcia Roberts), Violeta Lópiz’s illustrations are appealingly concrete, with a limited palette and the warm textural fuzz of construction paper. The connection between pictures and words is often elliptical, their marriage most effective when teased out across several pages—as when, after the mouse accepts the suit of a seemingly harmless kitten, the account of her wedding night and the alarming incidents that follow is accompanied by distortions. The mouse’s stretched reflection is projected onto the side of a steaming chrome kettle, her body is doubled by the water inside a curving vase… The coupling in True Story of a resourceful mouse and a monstrous cat does not end well. But neither does the fable end with that relationship’s demise. The retold tale is capped by a wordless coda that casts the story and its imagery in a new melancholy light, stripping away the pretense of its central metaphor. This lovely mini-narrative recontextualizes objects that were previously weaponized—open scissors as suitors, a net shopping bag that trapped the mouse’s feet—and re-envisions them as the landscape of a different life: one full of hope, in which the mouse may dream herself a better story.“ —Melissa Albert (The Hazel Wood series), for the New York Times