Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Mouse with the Question Mark Tail

The Mouse with the Question Mark Tail

Richard Peck
Illustrator:  Kelly Murphy 
For ages 8 to 11
Penguin, 2013   ISBN: 978-0803738386

Humans like to assume that they know all there is to know about just about everything. They are wrong. Among other things, they don’t know that there is a hidden society of creatures who live in the walls of buildings, in tunnels underground, and in many other kinds of small spaces. There is a “Great Truth” of the British Empire that humans, alas, know nothing about. This Great Truth is that “For every job a human holds, there is a mouse with the same job, and doing it better.”

   In the Royal Mews next to Buckingham Palace everyone, including the resident mice, is getting ready for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. The mice take their responsibilities very seriously and there is much that needs to be done. In the Royal Mews, or rather under it, is the Royal Mews Mouse Academy. One of the students is a very small gray mouse whose tail naturally falls “into the shape of a question mark.” Unlike the other academy students, this smaller-than-usual mouse youngster does not know what his name is, who his mother was (she died) or where he is from. When he was an infant a Royal Mews seamstress mouse called Marigold took him in, and she has been taking care of him ever since.

   The other mice at the academy soon start calling the little mouse Mouse Minor, and they greatly enjoy bullying him and reminding him that they think he is a “noxious nobody.” One day, faced with the prospect of being beaten up yet again, Mouse Minor runs away. Still wearing his academy uniform he blindly runs down tunnels and suddenly finds himself in the royal riding school that is being used by the royal children. Mouse Minor is seen by Princess Ena of Battenberg, she screams, her horse bucks, and the princess comes flying off. Mouse Minor has not only run away from school, but he has also broken one of the rules that mice should never break: he has allowed a human to see him wearing clothes.

   Knowing full well that he is in terrible trouble, Mouse Minor wanders through the tunnels aimlessly until he comes face to face with the mews cat. Normally a cat would pounce on Mouse Minor and that would be that, but this cat is a Mews cat and she, like all the mice and horses, is in service to the queen. This cat has to put her job before her stomach, and her job is to calm the horses.

   The cat knows all about Mouse Minor’s troubles and she takes him to the stables and introduces him to Pegasus, the horse who is going to pull the queen’s carriage in the Diamond Jubilee celebrations. The next morning, Pegasus invites Mouse Minor to go out with him and though the mouse does not really like riding inside a horse’s ear, it is interesting to see the world that lies beyond the Royal Mews, beyond even the walls of the palace garden. Maybe the answers to Mouse Minor’s questions are out there somewhere.

   Then Pegasus sees a filly, a very pretty filly. He flicks his ears, and poor Mouse Minor goes flying into the air and he lands in a tree. He is then deposited in bed of begonias. Mouse Minor doesn’t get far before he finds himself trapped in a butterfly net and face to face with one of the Yoemice of the Guard. Mouse Minor is given two choices. He can become a prisoner, or he can become a Yoemouse. All Mouse Minor wants to do is talk to Queen Victoria, to ask for her advice, but for now he has to accept being a Yoemouse. It can’t be that bad to march up and down in a fancy uniform can it? Perhaps he will even have the opportunity to talk to the queen.


   In this deliciously funny and sweetly sensitive story, we meet a mouse who desperately wants to find out who he is and what he is going to become. It is interesting to see how the author slowly reveals more and more information about Mouse Minor, finally bringing us to a finale that is thoroughly gratifying.