Review: Fish Soup by Ursula K. Le Guin

Fish Soup - Ursula K. Le Guin, Patrick Wynne

This is another of the pile of children's books around the house (why we have them discussed here), and I would probably not have picked it up except that I noticed the illustrations. I wish I had some links to share where you could see more of them - but you can glimpse on the cover that those are mice with wings. Which are adorable. I needed to know all about why those mice had wings.

 

Except there's no explanation about the winged mice. The book isn't about them. Which made me love it all the more. [Later I posted photos of a few of the mouse illustrations: here.]

 

Here's the opening - notice that the mice show up early. p 1-3:

"There was a man called the Thinking Man of Moha, and there was a woman called The Writing Woman of Moha, and they were friends. Every few days the man would get tired of thinking and say to himself, "I'll go visit her." He would cross the bridge over the river and take the road across the hills, and come at last to her messy house, where the mice flew through the air and the cats collected furballs as big as pillows in every corner. The man would knock on the door, and the woman would stop her writing and call, "Come in!" She would look to see what was in the soup kettle, hoping it was soup. Sometimes it was mice. If it was mice, she would say "Shoo!" till they flew out. If it was soup, she would put it on to heat. While it heated, she would push the books off a corner of the table, and then the two friends would sit and eat soup and talk, waving their spoons at passing mice. And at last the man would go home to Moha, for he had to feed the cow."

It's a sweet story - part fairy tale, part allegory. But I wouldn't have enjoyed it half as much without Patrick Wynne's illustrations. In fact I immediately tried to search and see if he had any artwork or prints or posters for sale and, sadly, no. (He's done some Tolkien illustrations, but no prints/posters of those either.)

 

There's a drawing of the two main characters talking at the woman's table, surrounded by books (you can read some of the titles, which are amusing), while six mice swoop through the air in the background. Two mice are perched amongst the books, and one of them is listening to the man and the woman's conversation. I would have definitely bought a print of that one.

 

I also love that the woman's house was full of cats, who are interested in the mice - but we have no indication that the mice ever become dinner for one of them. It's a great example of the kind of thing you'd read to a child and then ask "so how do you think those cats and those mice got on?" Because the book doesn't say and you can have a fun discussion.

 

Again, this really isn't a book about flying mice. It's actually about parents and expectations of children. But for me, well, I'm all about the mouse questions.

 

Excuse me, I have to go look at the illustrations again.