If You Give a Mouse a Motorcycle…

The Mouse and the Motorcycle

Author:  Beverly Cleary

Back to the classics!  Yet again, I feel like I was some kind of mutant, because I didn’t read any Beverly Cleary as a kid.  I know, right?  I ended up listening to this as an audio book, with the print text nearby to refer to occasionally.  The Mouse and the Motorcycle is a little dated in some of its references, but the core story of Ralph the mouse holds up really well.  Ralph and his mouse family live in an out-of-the-way, rundown hotel, and he gets carried away when a boy comes to stay at the hotel and has a toy motorcycle.  Friendship ensues, and ultimately Ralph has to go on a hero’s journey to help his friend and redeem himself.  I found myself wondering how Ralph would negotiate the big world of the hotel, and his problem-solving is ingenious and fun.

Here’s what I find interesting.  This book is leveled at early fifth grade, but I never had much luck selling this title or other Cleary work to fifth graders.  There is a simplicity to this story that seems more appropriate for a younger reader…and I think I’ll be able to totally sell this to third and early fourth graders.  The trick will be to get those readers to push to the third chapter, when the action picks up.

As I was listening, I was  envisioning using this book as a mentor text in narrative writing.  Specifically, I was thinking about how clearly Cleary balances the internal and external story, and how easily the text shows that.  For example:

“Ralph scurried across the carpet of Room 215, flattened himself and squeezed under the door.  Once out in the hall, his courage ebbed.  The aspirin tablet seemed a very small thing to find in such a vast place.  It would be much easier to find the motorcycle.  No, thought Ralph.  I must not even think about the motorcycle.” (p.139-140)

So I’m considering using this as an early read aloud, partly for the purposes of mentor text, and partly to lure kids the the rest of Cleary’s works in general and the Ralph books in particular.

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