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I’ve started reading chapter books aloud to my kids. One of our first reads was the classic Stuart Little and it definitely didn’t go the way I expected.
Things You Remember About Stuart Little
- Stuart is a mouse.
- He lives with a family in New York City.
- He has adventures.
- Maybe a bird?
- They made a movie out of it that looks terrible but at least it gave Hugh Laurie a paycheck.
Things You Don’t Remember About Stuart Little
- Stuart is not actually a mouse. At least, everyone keeps saying “he looks like a mouse” rather than confirming actual mouse-dom. A doctor confirms that Stuart has the same vital statistics as a mouse, so you’d think that would be enough, but it isn’t.
- Stuart doesn’t just live with this family. He is their son. As in, Mrs. Little gave birth to him. SHE GAVE BIRTH TO A MOUSE AND EVERYONE IS ODDLY COOL WITH THAT.
- Stuart’s parents are very concerned that his mouse-ness will affect him negatively. They censor themselves to avoid mouse violence, mostly in rhyme, including Three Blind Mice. “I should feel badly to have my son grow up fearing that a farmer’s wife was going to cut off his tail with a carving knife,” Mr. Little says. It is kind of cute but also kind of morbid to read in front of your kid.
- Stuart does have many adventures. They occasionally involve him being helpful due to his small size, and these are kind of cute.
- Mostly these adventures involve Stuart almost dying.
- The Little family has a cat. They don’t seem to think this is potentially hazardous to their son who happens to look just like a mouse. (The Littles are basically the worst.)
- Stuart accidentally gets himself wrapped up in the blinds and the cat, who witnessed it, not only keeps mum about it but tries to make the Littles think that Stuart has gone down a mouse-hole. Stuart is only found after everyone thinks he’s dead and they lower the blinds out of mourning and grief.
- There is a big race where Stuart pilots one of the model boats in Central Park. It is pretty badass.
- In a throwaway paragraph, Stuart is trapped in the refrigerator and almost dies. Again.
- Stuart meets a bird who moves in with the family. The bird is cautious about the cat because the bird is not a complete idiot, unlike everyone else.
- The cat tries to eat the bird. (Shocking plot twist!) Fortunately, Stuart felt ill at ease and went out to protect the bird. Stuart shoots the cat in the ear with a bow and arrow. The cat doesn’t die. And the bird decides to stay. And WTF, why does everyone think this is okay?
- Stuart hides from a dog in a trash can but gets dumped into a garbage truck and then on to a garbage boat in the river. Once again, he’s on the verge of death. Stuart says to himself, “I’ll just have to sit here bravely and die like a man. But I wish I didn’t have to die with egg on my pants[.]” Luckily the bird saves Stuart.
- The cat discusses the moral dilemma of whether or not to eat the bird with another cat. The other cat says, “I’m not a member of your family and there is nothing to stop me from eating her, is there?” “Nothing I can think of offhand,” the cat says. I hope you do not have a cat in your house while you are reading it to your children because they will never feel safe again.
- Due to the impending cat threat, the bird leaves. Stuart is wrecked without the bird. Stuart decides to leave his home, possibly forever, to find her. If your kid has even considered the possibility of running away, this book is probably not a good choice for you. Stuart is still a very young mouse and has literally no idea where the bird is. It is epically dumb. Maybe this is a good time to have a conversation with your child about what bad choices Stuart is making, especially considering how many near-death experiences he’s had already.
- A woman giving birth to a mouse is not the end of the magical realism in this book. Stuart gets a model car to take on his journey which can be turned invisible. But Stuart hits the invisible switch and when trying to turn it back he accidentally hits the starter and then the car runs around the room crashing into everything but no one can catch it because it’s invisible. They have to wait for it to run out of gas.
- Once he’s on the road, Stuart encounters a sad man who is actually the local Superintendent of Schools. One of his teachers is sick, he doesn’t have a replacement, you see where this is going… For what it’s worth, there’s no record of Stuart ever attending school himself, so he’s awfully unqualified. Stuart ends up being something of an expert in the molding of young minds and tells the class that he should be the Chairman of the World. (“King” is old-fashioned.) As they form the moral basis of a new world order, they decide the most important things in the world are “a shaft of sunlight[,]” “a note in music,” “the way the back of a baby’s neck smells if its mother keeps it tidy,” and “ice cream with chocolate sauce[.]” This is another point where it might be good to stop and explain to your kid… something. I really don’t know how to explain any of this and I just hoped my kid wasn’t paying very close attention.
- Stuart stops in a city where he hears there is a tiny girl just his height named Harriett. Stuart sees her and gets all hung up on her. (Clearly Stuart has an interspecies fetish of some kind. He has yet to show any interest in another mouse.) He writes Harriett a letter which includes the lines, “[m]y only drawback is that I look something like a mouse. I am nicely proportioned however.” He tells her not to mention the whole mouse thing to her parents. This is the part where you tell your kids they should definitely tell you if some mouse starts hitting on them.
- Stuart spends days preparing for his date with Harriett. He buys a little toy canoe that doesn’t actually work very well and he toils for hours fixing it up. Finally when Harriett comes he finds that someone has been playing with his canoe and it’s in even worse shape than before. Instead of rolling with it, Stuart throws a tantrum and Harriett goes home. Harriett is a very smart girl.
- Stuart continues on his drive searching for the bird. He’s going north because… well not for any good reason.
- The book ends while Stuart is driving north. He doesn’t even find the bird. He doesn’t have any idea whether he’s going the right direction. He’s just heading north as if it symbolizes some sort of inner journey but don’t ask me what. Hopefully your kid will be so happy the book is over that they won’t notice that it doesn’t have an ending.