A MouseKeeper Christmas: The Beginning by Jenny Deason Copeland is a highly original Christmas story about Sara, who solves a very big problem for Santa and the North Pole. Mice are running rampant in Santa’s workshop, slowing down production, so Santa and the elves hold a contest for children to find a solution. Sara has the best idea: every child on the “Nice” list will adopt a mouse during the Christmas season so Santa can get his work done. Sara’s plan goes off without a hitch, and the “Nice” list even grows, as all the children want to take care off a mouse for Christmas.
There’s a lot going for this book, but also a few misses here and there that affect the overall quality. On the plus side, it’s a wholly unique book, which portrays an intriguing twist on Christmas. In this world, Santa, elves and kids interact, dolls become people and back again, and more magical elements that give the book a fun degree of fantasy. The pictures are colorful and vivid, and seem something like still frames from an animated show. This is a plus, as the book unfolds like a TV special, moving along at a quick and engaging pace.
On the downside, the layout of the book is slightly uniform – each picture is in the same small square frame, rather than sitting organically on the page. Coupled with the layout of the text, which has no indentation for each line, and it comes off a bit cluttered. Additionally, the amount of text is too long for the young end of the age range (3-8), and too rudimentary for older readers.
The coolest thing about this book, however, is that Copeland includes a lot of interactive material inside and outside the book. At the end of the book she includes a graphic of the “Mousekeeper Rules” included in the book (the instructions for taking care of a mouse), as well as a Mousekeeper Badge. These would be a bit more persuasive to use if they were better designed, but it’s a great idea and will have kids invested in the book, if not the act of reading itself, as it fuels imagination by bringing this fictional tale into real life.
On Copeland’s website, she includes ideas for kids, such as finding smelly cheese for when the Christmas mice drop by the house (a scene in the book), and getting a child a stuffed mouse on Thanksgiving to mimic the story in the book. Overall, the ideas and the heart are there, but not quite enough has gone into the book’s execution to fully make good on its promise.
That said, there is plenty here to spark kids imagination and enjoyment. It’s one of the more original Christmas stories you will ever read. Even kids who are at the stage of believing in Santa Claus will be inspired with “What if?” Even if Santa exists, he’s not really interacting with people the way he does here. And if “The Beginning” is any signal, more books in this universe are on the way, so it’s exciting to see where the series goes next, as there are any number of directions that Copeland could take this fascinating holiday world.