Book Review: Seven Blind Mice

Rating: ★★★★☆

Ed Young unveiled his artistic brilliance in 1989 with his Caldecott winner Lon Po Po, a Chinese version of Little Red Riding Hood that is so compelling as to be genuinely disturbing.  This book, also earning a Caldecott recognition, is much gentler.  It reinvents the traditional Indian tale of the blind men and the elephant with seven blind mice of different colors.  This, of course, reminds you of Mother Goose’s “Three Blind Mice,” but these mice keep their tails — in fact, the first we see of them are brightly colored tails waving at the edge of a field of black.  The story is animated with dynamic visual scenes made from cut-paper collage, in which each mouse in turn experiences and then explains a different aspect of the elephant.  The use of primary colors and the systematic, deliberate way in which each mouse sallies forth on a new day of the week makes this a wonderfully predictable tale with humor, surprise, and a satisfying ending.

The author concludes with an explicit moral that not every reader will easily connect with the story events: “Knowing in part may make a fine tale, but wisdom comes from seeing the whole.”  I think he is probably speaking from a Buddhist perspective, and “seeing the whole” may refer to the concept of Nirvana.  (Sidenote: Most of the little I know about Eastern mysticism I learned from The Universe Next Door, which provides a quick, accessible survey of major religions from a Christian perspective.)  The elephant may be symbolic of spiritual truth, and it’s probably significant that the white mouse is the one who realizes the mysterious object is an elephant.  One might interpret this mouse as having emptied herself of prejudice and desire so as to better discern what the object is.

Although its artistic and historical value of this fable are undeniable, Christian parents will want to think about how to discuss the spiritual themes with their kids.  It has been popular with Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain adherents for good reason, and it also resonates with the postmodern belief that all truth is relative depending on one’s perspective.  The beauty of this tale comes from its elegant simplicity, its eloquent symbolism that provides opportunity to discuss beliefs about spiritual reality.  Take, for example, the fact that the elephant is silent.  As Randy Newman points out in Questioning Evangelism, this story would be very different if the elephant were to speak and reveal his own identity to the blind questioners rather than leaving them to discover it themselves.  This is in fact a major distinction between Christianity and other religions — the claim that God has revealed Himself to humanity through the incarnated person of Jesus (Hebrews 1:1-3), and those who have faith in Him will one day experience the full revelation of a personal God (1 Corinthians 13:11-12).

Not every child will be able to grasp these concepts, of course, and parents need to be able to discern when it is appropriate to begin that discussion.  But the Eastern moral isn’t likely to strongly influence Christian kids unless they’re already attracted to mysticism.  If they’re ready to learn about the Greek pantheon, they’re ready to learn about the Blind Men and the Elephant, and this is a pretty fun way to do it.

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Publication Information: Young, Ed. Seven Blind Mice. Puffin. 1992. ISBN: 0698118952.
Categories: 4 Stars, Age 04-08, Caldecott Honor
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Posted on November 5, 2011

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