Monday, June 14, 2010

The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary

So, the book club saga continues. This was the book our child-parent book club was reading this month. I suggested it because, not having read it myself mind, it seemed like something about the right age level and a fairly safe choice. I'm not always going to pick safe choices for this group, but it's the first meeting I'm leading and I want to get my toes wet gradually.
Ralph is a young mouse living in the Mountain View Inn in California. It's a small, out of the way hotel, a little shabbier than it had been in its hey-day. Ralph and his family live in room 215, and as the story opens, a boy takes up residence with his parents for a few days. This boy brings with him a number of toy cars -- including a motorcycle just right for a mouse. This is an opportunity far too good for adventurous Ralph to pass up. And Ralph is about to get at least as much adventure as he hoped for.

Since I've already done a fair bit of thinking following the Deconstructing Penguins roadmap, I thought I'd just post my own answers to some of the questions the Goldstones suggest. When I wrote out my thoughts for the book club, the result was four pages long. I'm only going to include the things we touched upon during the book club discussion.

Incidentally, the book club didn't work perfectly; there were only four participants, two kids and two parents, and one of the kids dominated the group. I did my best to try and find some balance, but what I need is a bigger group. We managed to get to my big "point of view" discussion, and I think that got some attention. So that was good.

Who is the protagonist? What action are they trying to move forward?
Ralph strikes me as the most likely protagonist. He wants to have adventures; he wants to go down to the first floor; he wants to ride the motorcycle. In short, Ralph wants to grow up. However, at the beginning of the book at least, he doesn't understand that growing up is about more than size and ability -- it's about responsibility and consequences, too.

Who is the antagonist?
If Ralph is the protagonist, his mother (not the most obvious choice, as she really isn't a main character) is the antagonist. She's not terribly effective as an antagonist; Ralph doesn't listen to her. But she definitely represents the forces trying to hold Ralph back from growing up.

Knowing the protagonist and antagonist, what is this book actually about?
Personally, I think it's about growing up, and about how growing up is more than just getting older. It's about being mature enough to understand how your actions affect others, and how when you're given privileges, you're also given responsibilities. If you don't live up to those responsibilities, people aren't going to respect you as an adult. But if you do live up to those responsibilities, people will take notice of that, too.

That was about as far as we got on the roadmap. I only have an hour and we kept getting sidetracked by the colours of markers I was supposed to be using. Sigh. I did manage to squeeze in a discussion I wanted to have that didn't exactly follow the Deconstructing Penguins plan, but was something I thought was pretty important to think about: point of view. It's brought up in Deconstructing Penguins for sure, but not in quite the same way.

In The Mouse and the Motorcycle we have two very obviously different points of view: the mice, and the humans. So it was (relatively) easy to get the group to understand what I meant by "point of view." We did it by demonstrating the difference in the way the mice and the humans view the phrase "mice are pests." Then we talked about how, from the point of view of a mouse, people might be the pests instead. This is supported by several things that happen in the book, which is important. One doesn't want to be conjecturing about what the author meant to say without any evidence to back one up.

So we had two clear points of view -- and then we talked about whether or not it was possible that Ralph and his mother maybe had different points of view, too. They were both mice, but they didn't see things the same way. We were just starting to get into the whys of that when one half of the group had to run to swimming lessons, so it was cut short; but I think there was more fodder there for discussion, for sure.

This particular book club is breaking now until October. The summer's too crazy for me to keep working on that, and the kids are pretty busy too, with sports and friends and so on. So I've got some time to do some advertising and some planning, and I feel cautiously optimistic that this might be a really fun program to run.


Cecelia said...

Oh, I remember LOVING this book as a kid. I'd be interested to see how I feel about it as an adult, though. I think part of the fun was that Ralph was disobeying his parents, and doing something wild/dangerous.

It sounds as though your group went fairly well given the circumstances. Good luck!

Unknown said...

Thanks! I think it's probably one of those books that one views with a very different perspective as an adult. I still enjoyed, though. Lots of fun. Ralph is so endearing!