The Umbrella Mouse is one of those truly special books, whose characters are so brilliantly realised that I was completely immersed, and invested, in their adventure which is of epic proportions: full of action, tension and heroic deeds, interspersed with the building of heart-warming friendships. And all this from animals who fight in tandem with the humans, although they are unaware of the vital efforts, and sacrifices, the animals are making to help win the war.
It is 1944: meet Pip Hanway, an inquisitive, daring and rather impetuous young mouse who is living in an antique umbrella, with her parents, in James Smith & Sons Umbrella Shop. When a bomb strikes the shop, her world is brutally shattered: the only link that remains to her family and home is the umbrella which becomes a powerful symbol of remembrance and hope of re-connection with her only remaining family.
The grief, longing and loneliness Pip experiences as a result of this horrific experience is heart-breaking, so it is such a relief when she meets the kind-hearted, caring and protective Dickin, a Search and Rescue terrier, who alongside GI Joe, a homing pigeon and Hans, a German rat, become her steadfast friends.
Pip soon joins Churchill’s Secret Animal Army, an underground animal resistance movement, and so begins her daring mission to help the Allied powers, a mission which takes her to war-torn France … where she is caught up in the brutality of the war alongside her French Counterparts, Noah’s Ark. Will she and her friends survive unscathed from the war raging around them?
Pip absolutely engenders the indomitable spirit of our war time heroes, and I adored her for it! Despite her small stature, her fortitude and sheer determination is so uplifting as is her strength in building, and protecting, lasting friendships with her new family.
I was really struck by how the horror and futility of war is realistically portrayed and not watered down for a younger audience, yet because of the use of animal characters and the skill of the narration, it is entirely suitable for its audience.
I don’t normally share quotes from books, but these are just too meaningful to leave unshared, and really had an impact on me:
“I just need to find the courage in my heart to begin something new.”
“Without mistakes, your life will never know adventure.”
What powerful messages to be giving to young readers – in fact – to readers of any age!
Sam Usher’s wonderful illustrations complement the story perfectly. I was also very touched by the Author’s Note which shares her inspiration, and motivation, for the story.
I cannot recommend this story highly enough, and think it would be a perfect book to use alongside a unit on World War II – or just to read because it is exceptional story-telling!
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