The Mouse With the Question Mark Tail by Richard Peck has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.
Beneath Buckingham Palace, an entire kingdom of mice scurries about. Mouse Minor is the smallest mouse in the tunnels under the cobblestones of the Royal Mews, the palace stables. He is a bit of a misfit, as he is shorter than the other mice, his face has soft whiskers, and his tail loops into a question mark. Mouse Minor has many questions about his life, as he has no name and no parents, but is left with only a vague memory of life outside of the Mews.
Mouse Minor’s Aunt Marigold, the sharp, no-nonsense Head Needlemouse, has taken to raising him as her son. She evades Mouse Minor’s questions about his upbringing, but reveals that, after his mother died, she found him and brought him back in her sewing basket. Aunt Marigold sews him a new blazer for school at the Royal Mews Mouse Academy. At school, he is given his nickname “Mouse Minor,” and picks fights with other students, against his aunt’s warnings.
One day, when Mouse Minor is fleeing from two bullies he provoked earlier, he finds himself above ground by Buckingham’s riding school, which has been decorated for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. As he takes in the sight, the queen’s granddaughter practices horseback riding around the courtyard. The sight of Mouse Minor standing upright in his school uniform spooks both the princess and her horse. Mouse Minor flees underground, realizing he has made a terrible mistake.
As he scurries through the tunnels of the Mews, Mouse Minor runs into a gossiping cat that already knows about the incident with the princess. Instead of eating him, the cat takes pity on him and offers to let Mouse Minor follow him to the stables in search of food. A skittish horse named Pegasus befriends Mouse Minor and allows him to ride in his ear for a tour around London. However, in an unfortunate accident, Mouse Minor is flung from the horse’s ear and finds himself in a wall of begonias, where he meets the Yeomice, who defend the border of Buckingham Palace Royal Park. The leader of the Yeomice is reluctant to take Mouse Minor as a prisoner. Instead, he offers Mouse Minor a position as a Yeomouse. Here, Mouse Minor meets his first friend, Ian, a noble mouse who is also looking for his place in the world.
Later that evening, Ian claims their names were on the roster for sentry duty, so Ian and Mouse Minor go out to patrol the lawn. Suddenly two bats snatch Mouse Minor and carry him toward the palace. Mouse Minor escapes the claws of the bats by dropping into a punch bowl during a party just outside the palace, where a footman finds and pockets him. Seeing a chance to escape, Mouse Minor catches the apron strings of another servant, who carries him to Queen Victoria. Mouse Minor hopes that the queen, who is rumored to know everything, might reveal his true identity.
Mouse Minor introduces himself to the queen and is fortunate that she can speak to him. In fact, she recognizes him and knows about his journey — but she does not know his name. She also hints that there might be a Mouse Queen of England, who knows even more than Queen Victoria. So Mouse Minor begins the search for the secretive Queen of Mice, only to be snatched by the same two bats that originally took him.
Mouse Minor expects that the bats will eat him, but instead they give him a new uniform and escort him to his old headmaster, who is not only a bat, but serves as the Bat Chancellor and Air Marshal. In an even more shocking twist of events, the headmaster reveals that Mouse Minor’s real name is Ludovic, and he is the lost heir to the throne of mice. The Queen of the Mice does not know this; she believes Ludovic died when his mother, the princess, died just after his birth. At this moment, Ian appears and explains that the Queen of Mice is looking for a new heir and is considering Prince Bruno of Denmark. Ian and the bats arranged this meeting to bring the true heir to the throne and to the attention of the Queen of Mice, who does not take surprises well.
Just as the Queen of Mice is about to announce Prince Bruno as her new heir, Ludovic drops down from a chandelier with the help of the bats, claiming he is her grandson. The Queen is shocked, and both the headmaster and Aunt Marigold work to convince her that Ludovic is the lost heir to the throne. The Queen refuses to believe them until she catches sight of Ludovic’s question-mark tail, which is a royal trait passed down through the line. Ludovic asks for his father, only to find him right beside him, the Captain of the Yeomice of the Guard. Ludovic returns to his family, choosing Ian for his Mouse Equerry, and prepares for his future reign as Ludovic the 237th.
Queen Victoria is initially portrayed and spoken of as a divine figure, though later in the book she is portrayed as a mere human.
Queen Victoria is a highly revered authority and is portrayed as kind and wise. Mouse Minor’s Aunt Marigold initially comes across as a bit gruff and secretive, but she cares for him and ultimately has his best in mind. His headmaster is also intimidating at the start but reveals Mouse Minor’s true identity and helps him retake his place on the throne. After Mouse Minor is proven to be the heir, his grandmother and his father immediately accept him as family.
Mouse Minor gets into several fights at school, where his tooth is loosened, he gets a black eye, his uniform is ripped, and he blacks out (twice). Mouse Minor’s aunt hangs him upside down by the tail when he doesn’t listen. A headmaster hits Mouse Minor across the knuckles with a toothpick when he doesn’t pay attention in class. The headmaster also describes the use of a guillotine for mice during the French Revolution; there is a brief description of beheading. Yeomice bear swords, though they don’t use them in a violent way. The mice bring flowers to the grave of the Unknown Mouse.
Servants drink Champagne while they are off of work. Horse manure is a recurring image during the first few chapters of the book. The Queen is once referred to as “Her Royal Nibs.” There is a bit of name-calling, though it is mostly puns relating to either mice or cats.
Marriage is discussed briefly, specifically the difference between royal figures marrying out of duty and out of affection. A footman flirts with a palace maid, and she accuses him of being “cheeky.” A poem uses the word “loins,” but not in a sexual way.
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