Mouse Mansion: Sam & Julia at the circus
Allen & Unwin, 2014
hbk., 60pp., RRP $A24.99
Sam and Julia are two mice who live in Mouse Mansion, but there their similarities stop. Julia lives in a tiny apartment with her mum with no other relatives and she is super nosy and very naughty. Sam, on the other hand, lives in the middle of the mansion with all his relatives (and there are many) and he is super shy and very obedient. However when Julia is bored and goes looking for adventures he goes with her and can be quite daring. But they are the best of friends and share everything.
One day, while out on an errand for Julia’s mum, they spot a man putting up circus posters. They help him out and discover that the circus is looking for someone to sew and cook for it. Julia’s mum applies for the job and so begins an adventure that none of them will ever forget. But despite the fun and excitement of the circus, Julia misses seeing and playing with Sam and their friendship is stretched. Julia really misses him and even though she has Enrico to get into mischief with, it is Sam that she misses most.
This is essentially a novel for young readers presented in picture book format and when you see the stunning pictures you understand why. Creator Karina Schaapman created a real mouse mansion standing three metres high and two metres wide with over 100 rooms to be the setting for her books. The mansion is made from cardboard boxes and papier-mache, and it has more than a hundred rooms, corridors and outdoor spaces. For the interior, Karina used vintage fabrics from the fifties, sixties and seventies plus various types of waste material. For this, the third in the series, she also created a complete miniature circus based on posters, photos and letters she had of the Circus Roberti, the circus in the story. Placed amongst these models are exquisitely created little mice and the whole has been photographed by Japp Vliegenthart. From the enticing endpapers to the magnificent central three-page spreads, the illustrations are just breathtaking in their detail and take the enraptured reader into the world of Sam and Julia and the circus. Even without the text it would be a masterpiece. You can find out more about the mansion and even get some tips for building your own.
While the story itself is a great read-aloud about the power of friendship and what we can learn from others for the very young, or an endearing read-alone for the emerging independent reader, it has endless scope for those looking at how books are illustrated and how illustrations add context, depth and understanding to words.