Tents, Badges, S’mores and Cheesy Crackers = Mouse Scouts!

Elizabeth Bluemle -- February 16th, 2016

Mouse Scouts flyerWhen the weather forecast on an event day predicts a low of -12 (without wind chill), we can flip a coin on attendance. The bone-chilling cold will either keep families indoors, or bring them flocking to the bookstore for a fun weekend activity that doesn’t cause frostbite.

Since Vermonters are hardy souls, we shouldn’t have been surprised that Saturday turned out to be busy at almost Christmas-time levels, and the morning part of that bright liveliness was due to visiting author Sarah Dillard and her clever, cute, crowd-pleasing new Mouse Scouts series.

The Flying Pig has been a fan of Sarah’s for years, ever since her picture book, Perfectly Arugula, came on the scene in 2009. The story of a perfectionist hedgehog who learns to loosen up just a little, Arugula had a wry, droll recognition of human foible (well, erinaceous foible, since she’s a hedgehog) that was utterly delightful — and resonated all too well with the perfectionists who read it.

We knew even then that Dillard was going to be one to watch. There was something unique about her calm hilarity, a wise intelligence combined with a kind of rebellious great good humor. It’s hard to pin down in words, but no one else captures well-intentioned shortcomings quite the way she does, and the result is priceless. Last year, her Extraordinary Warren books cracked us up with their combination of the characters’ exuberance and imperfection. And now, Mouse Scouts has burst on the scene with the same wry humor dressed in an irresistibly adorable package.

I have to say, this series is one of the easiest handsells for ages 6-9. Once kids leaf through it, they can’t put it down.

Illustrated throughout, this series follows young scouts Violet, Tiger Lily, Petunia, Cricket, Junebug, and Hyacinth on badge-earning adventures. Along the way, the mice meet their own fears and challenges, and they do so in very funny, relatable ways. The art is just perfect — as clean and clear as the little brushes and bars of soaps in Richard Scarry books — and filled with personality. And the books are liberally peppered with useful information about the topic the mouse scouts are exploring.

In the first book, for instance, they are earning their Sow It and Grow It gardening badge, and Dillard includes many insert pages with helpful gardening tips (her favorite parts of the books to write, she told the audience).

What I love about Sarah Dillard’s stories and characters is that they are cute without being cloying, and sweet without being saccharine. Like real children, her characters are a mixture of sweetness and rough edges, kindness and pinchiness. Fans of Ivy and Bean will LOVE this series.

A week or two before her event, Sarah and I met for coffee to plan out some Mouse Scout activities for kids, ages 6-9, to do. We decided they would earn three Mouse Scout badges, and planned out the details.

On Saturday, when the children arrived, we began with Sarah reading them a chapter, talking with them a little about the books, and showing them how she draws characters:

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Then, the children earned the Sow It and Grow It badge for planting flower or rosemary seeds (their choice) in potting soil inside Dixie cups. This was done on a plastic tarp in our middle-grade section. Each child carefully spooned potting soil into their cups, and Sarah explained how deep to plant their seeds and how much to water them when they got home. We labeled the cups with the children’s names and set them aside behind the counter.

Sow it & Grow it Badge

Mouse Scouts Sow it & Grow it Badge

We had borrowed a friend’s indoor tent to set up in our Picture Book section. Originally, we thought we would have the kids set up the tent to earn their Camp Out badge, but since the foldable poles unfurl to about 12′ long apiece, that was an eye injury waiting to happen. So we had pre-set up the tent and imported it to the right section while the kids were gardening. Once they piled into the tent, we handed out “injured” stuffed animals to each child, along with strips of sheets to bandage their wounded. I have to say, I was surprised by how neatly those little hands made bandages!

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Mouse Scouts Camp Out Badge

Mouse Scouts Camp Out Badge

Finally, we re-convened in the tarp-covered middle grade section for snacks — “raw” s’mores and — of course — mouse-approved tiny cheesy crackers — and a discussion of favorite books. Here, the kids earned their Make a Difference badge. The list of books they brainstormed has been turned into a wish list at the bookstore, where we are inviting customers to purchase those titles (at 20% off) to donate to the Children’s Literacy Foundation (CLiF).

Mouse Scouts Make a Difference Badge

Mouse Scouts Make a Difference Badge

IMG_6004Afterward, Sarah signed books for the happy campers, who included a Brownie troop leader, parents, and a mix of boys and girls who all seemed to have a fabulous time at the event. (Even the camera-shy.)

IMG_5996And, in true, friendly children’s-book-industry style, illustrators came out to support the event and take their pal Sarah to lunch. Liza Woodruff, Amy Huntington, and Tracey Campbell Pearson were all there, and YA author Dayna Lawrence had brought her daughter to the event, too. At one point, we joked that we should hold an author-illustrator panel for the adults while the kids did their activities — and there was a happy clamor in favor of the idea from the parents.

Maybe an event for next time…..

P.S. I had wondered whether the oldest of our child participants, an incredibly precious reader, age 9, would feel too sophisticated for the event or the activities, or even the book itself. But her aunt texted me a photo later, showing her absolutely rapt, fully absorbed in the book she was halfway through. Now, that’s a hit!

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