Imaginary Exploration in Babymouse

Babymouse vs. The SquidOne of my favorite new series is Babymouse by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm. It’s a graphic novel series about a young mouse who leads a life that is relatively similar to that of a normal elementary school child. What makes Babymouse particularly special as a character is her extraordinary imagination (and perhaps her extremely broad knowledge of literature, popular culture and history). The authors excel at exploring ideas through Babymouse’s imaginary worlds, which are usually riffs on stories or themes from various sources. The results are quite intriguing and often say as much about the source material of Babymouse’s imaginary play as they do about the idea she is exploring.

One of the common themes for Babymouse’s imagination are monster movies along the lines of Godzilla. Her locker regularly trying to eat her is one of the recurring gags in the books. Babymouse both defeats such creatures and turns into them herself, as in the Babymousezilla sequence in Babymouse: Our Hero. We are told in the first book that she and her best friend love to watch old monster movies, which clearly explains why they come up so often in her imaginary worlds. There are classic horror themes as well, such as Frankenstein. It is quite interesting that this character, and these authors, understood that it is possible to identify with the hunters, the monster and the victims, often all at the same time, especially when you are a child. I can’t think of a single other book that does this, although I am sure that they must exist (possibly the Calvin and Hobbes comic strips).

Another interesting source for Babymouse’s imaginary play is classic children’s books and fairy tales, although often she is, again, not taking the part one would have expected. In her Cinderella fantasy in the first book she turns from poor Cinderella into one of the mice pulling Cinderella’s carriage. She can be Peter Pan, but a Peter who doesn’t fly (and in fact walks the plank and falls into the crocodile-infested water). And her “Little Mermouse” gets inked by a squid. Somehow, fairy tales are rarely as rosy for Babymouse. But then, fairy tales were rarely that rosy to begin with. We only remember them that way. Babymouse’s creative use of those stories certainly seems to clarify things for her and help her work through issues that she needs to work through, which was the point of fairy tales to begin with! Perhaps Babymouse has it more right than most adults do.

One of the most interesting elements I found was that gender means nothing in Babymouse’s fantasy worlds. She can as easily be a soldier in basic training or Superman as she can be a princess in pink or a mermaid. Clearly Babymouse has no fixed gender image getting in the way of her imaginary play. Looking at the cover of the book, with it’s abundance of pink and main character in her scalloped dress with heart adornments one wouldn’t expect to find squid fights, world wars and presidents handing out medals of commendation to the main character, but rather pink iced cupcakes and Cinderella fantasies and floating hearts. The truth is, the books contain all of the above and more. Babymouse is as likely to turn into a rock star with a Mohawk as she is a proper princess on a pink puff. It’s really great!

I honestly have to say I have been more impressed with the Babymouse books than anything else I have read in the past year for a variety of reasons. The imaginary exploration of ideas is just incredible, but it really only scratches the surface of why these books are amazing. I haven’t managed to read all five that are out yet (and haven’t even bought the fifth, but believe me, I soon will), but they are absolutely worth it. The exploration of ideas in these books is so interesting they could fuel a whole slew of literary papers on any number of themes!

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