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Book Review: Mouse Guard by David Petersen

Mouse Guard: Fall 1152, the first book in David Petersen's graphic novel series about a band of warrior mice, reads like a cross between Jill Barklem's Brambly Hedge and Brian Jacques' Redwall. 

Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 by David Petersen

Genre: Middle grade fiction
Publisher: Archaia
Year Published: 2009
Format: Graphic novel
Source: Library

Book Summary: Mouse Guard: Fall 1152

The forest is a dangerous place for any animal, especially one as small as a mouse. In the past, the mouse world endured a tyrannical Weasel Warlord until a noble band of mouse soldiers fought back. Ever since, the Mouse Guard has defended the paces and prosperity of its kingdom. For generations, this league of scouts, weather-watchers, trailblazers, and protectors has passed on its knowledge and skills.

“Now three of the Guard’s finest have been dispatched. The mission seems simple: They are to find a missing mouse, a grain merchant who never arrived at his destination. But when they find him, they make a shocking discovery—one that involves a treacherous betrayal, a stolen secret, and a rising power that has only one goal: to bring down the Guard…”

From the book description on Goodreads

What I thought of Mouse Guard: Fall 1152

The graphic novel section of the middle school library where I volunteer is by far the most popular section. Every time I go in, I spend at least 30 minutes cleaning it up. The kids at the middle school adore graphic novels, but aren’t as fond of putting them back where they belong.

Since there’s a three book check-out limit at the library, and since most graphic novel series contain far more than three books that for the most part need to be read in order, the kids are quite skilled at coming with strategies to hide the next book in whatever series they are reading. I am constantly finding books filed under the wrong letter, hidden behind other books, upside down, and sideways (so that the bottom of the book faces out instead of the spine).

One of the novels I found tucked away under C instead of P last month was David Petersen’s Mouse Guard: Fall 1152. The student who had filed it had taken the added security precaution of filing it with its spine to the wall, presumably so other readers wouldn’t be able to find it until he or she was done reading.

As I was fixing it, the cover with its brilliant fall leaves and fierce swash-buckling mouse caught my attention. So I checked it out (sorry, anonymous middle schooler, but if you want to protect the books from the librarians, you’ll have to put them back where they belong).

The story itself is engaging enough. The basic premise is that the forest houses a fully-fledged mouse kingdom made up of various towns and villages filled with peaceful mouse artisans, craftspeople, and tradesmen. The society is protected from threats external and domestic by a band of mouse warriors, known as the Mouse Guard.

Although the Mouse Guard does face some serious external threats in the Fall of 1152, most notably an extremely hungry owl, the main threat to the once-peaceful society comes from within. A rogue army rises, led by a former Mouse Guard warrior determined to seize power for himself.

The quote from Variety on the book cover describes Mouse Guard as a blend of Lord of the Rings and Stuart Little, and I can definitely see why. The rogue leader, Midnight, could be seen as a mouse version of Sauron, and all stories about mice are inevitably compared to Stuart Little at one point or another.

But I think a much better description would be to call this book a cross between Jill Barklem’s Brambly Hedge and Brian Jacques’ Redwall.

David Petersen and Jill Barklem both surround their mice with mouse-sized versions of human architecture and furniture

In Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 David Petersen has created a visual feast, with richly detailed illustrations of mouse homes, pubs, workshops, and streets that remind me of the illustrations Jill Barklem created for Brambly Hedge.

This illustration from Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 shows a mouse sitting in a nook under a set of concrete steps. The nook is lit by two hanging lamps, a cabinet holds scrolls in the back and the mouse himself is writing by candlelight.
The details in this illustration from Chapter 5: Midnight’s Dawn — the designs on the cabinets, the faint details on the shield, the mouse-sized furniture that looks like it could have come straight out of my grandparent’s house — remind me of the anthropomorphic style Jill Barklem uses in her picture book series, Brambly Hedge. (Image: David Petersen, Mouse Guard: Fall 1152)

And, like Redwall, the fate of this entire society depends upon the actions of a few brave mice.

There’s less feasting though. I don’t expect a Mouse Guard cookbook to be released any time soon.

There is a highly-rated role playing game, however, which reviewers describe as a great way to introduce middle schoolers to table top role playing games. The rules are less complex than Dungeon-and-Dragons, and the terrors mainly terrifying when you remember to see them from a mouse’s point of view. Still, there appears to be enough here to keep you and your middle schooler interested while you form patrols and lead missions to keep the Mouse Territories safe from owls, rogue battalions, and winter famine.

And of course, there is a set of graphic novels with which to immerse yourself into the world. So if you were looking for a role-playing game suitable for your middle schooler, this might be a good one to try.

Who would enjoy Mouse Guard: Fall 1152?

  • Anyone looking for a graphic novel series suitable for middle grade readers
  • Fans of Brian Jacques’ Redwall series
  • Readers looking for beautifully illustrated animal adventure stories

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