Lightening streaked through the forest. Thunder rolled in the hills. Mousekin darted under a burdock leaf to keep the rain away.
From beneath his leafy umbrella, Mousekin could see his home in the branches of the wild cherry tree. He had been away from his nest for a short mousetime… for as long as it takes a pink baby mouse to grow a coat of soft grey fur and leave the warmth of its mother’s side. It was Mousekin’s turn now to watch over his young as they learned how to live in the forest.
While he waited for the rain to stop falling, Mousekin busily nibbled fruit blown from a nearby tree. He never even noticed the stranger that shared his leaf in the storm until he felt something furry snuggle close beside him.
Too startled to squeak, or give more than a backward glance, Mousekin raced to the cherry tree. He hurried along a rain-drenched branch to a very small opening known only to woodpeckers and whitefooted mice.
There were no sounds of baby mice at play inside the down-filled hollow. Mousekin’s nest was empty. As he turned to search for his family, Mousekin heard a twittering call.
Far below, in the firefly light, stood the strange creature Mousekin had glimpsed under the burdock leaf. It had small mouse eyes, small mouse ears, tiny mouse paws with hind legs much longer than his own. Perhaps it was one of his mouselings that had strayed from the cherry tree nest. Mousekin gave a welcoming squeak, calling the little mouse home.
The furry form sat quietly and seemed not to hear.
Mousekin whistled and squeaked again. A mouse must always come when called! He drummed his paw upon a branch, coaxing the baby to climb. Whitefoot mice must learn to climb to live alone in a forest! The mouse baby never looked up.
Mousekin skittered down the wold cherry tree and gently nudged the little creature. He turned and ran lightly from stone to stone until he came to the hickory tree. The mouseling bounded beside him in great long leaps.
Perhaps his squirrel cousins could teach the mouse to climb… for there is no safer place than some craggy tree hollow when a whitefoot mouse must hide.
The squirrels chattered noisily leaping from tree to tree where branches barely met. But the baby didn’t stop to watch the racing and chasing far above him. He leaped in higher and wider circles beneath the hickory tree.
If the little mouse wouldn’t climb, then he must learn to build a safe home upon the ground. Mousekin scrambled here and there gathering moss and grasses, tucking them all carefully beneath a ledge of stone. A porcupine cousin, safe within his coat of quills, watched Mousekin as he worked… but the dainty jumper skipped about and never turned his head.
Mousekin shuddered as he heard the wailing call of the screech owl and the answering bark of a fox. He knew what could happen to any small mouse without a home in the forest! Perhaps his beaver cousins could teach the mouse to build. There is no stronger home than a beaver’s lodge when an owl and a fox are near.
Mousekin hurried to the stream with the jumper close beside him. Far upstream they could hear splashing and sharp slapping sounds upon the water.
They peered into the night as far as mice can see.
Mousekin watched his beaver cousins work… gnawing and whittling around a tree until it fell upon the shore. He watched them float the branches out to their log-filled homes and listened as they slapped the water with broad, flat tails to signal their going and coming.
But the only thing the naughty jumper saw was a great hawk moth. He chased the insect up and down along the stony bank. Mousekin heard a turtle sigh as it drew inside its shell. The little mouse would never learn to build a home by watching.
But there were other lessons to be learned. A mouse must know when it is time to gather and to store and when it is time to eat the fruit as it ripens in the sun. Mousekin turned a blackberry around and around in his paws. His whiskers twitched with mousy pleasure. The baby mouse sat quietly, looking straight ahead, not touching the food which Mousekin placed so temptingly beside him. Suddenly, the mouseling sprang–
He flew past the blackberry bush.
He flew past a chipmunk eating an early meal. With one long leap the mouseling jumped into a burrow.
But the chipmunk cousin didn’t want an uninvited guest. The air was filled with squeaks and squeals and angry scolding. The little mouse scrambled back up through the chipmunk doorway.
The little creatures barely heard a woodchuck cousin’s warning whistle– A hungry hawk was circling high watching the scene below.
Mousekin scrambled quickly into the nearest tree and hid beneath broad leaves. The chipmunk darted into its burrow, pushing leaves and dirt up tight against the entranceway …but the little jumper sat alone in the middle of the clearing.
As the hawk swooped low for its tiny prey, a large jumping mouse bounded forward and snatched her baby in a gentle grip.
In one swift motion, both mother and baby disappeared into the deep shadows of the underbrush.
Mousekin knew then that the strange little creature was a cousin and not one of his own.
For what seemed like a very long time Mousekin sat quietly in the tall grass. The wind blew and a long, low rumble of thunder broke the stillness once again. A drop of rain slid past him.
Mousekin turned to search the woods for a family all his own. Three whitefoot mice with whitefoot ways were waiting somewhere for him. He hurried along familiar paths back to the wild cherry tree…and the patter of rain, like tiny mouse feet, followed him into the forest.
~ Pinkie’s Thoughts~
I absolutely love the illustrations in this book and think Ms. Miller did an amazing job of bringing the animals to life. As a side note, I did not know what a burdock leaf was. It is from a biennial plant whose leaves can grow to be 28″ long with a wooly underside that is native to The Old World. The copywright is © 1969. “Mouskin’s Family” is dedicated “To Teddy”. The Library of Congress Catalog Card Number is 69-12673.