In the tradition of many a Great Mouse tale (Geronimo Stilton, Ralph S. Mouse, Stuart Little, The Rescuers, etc.), TUMTUM & NUTMEG is a prime example of old-fashioned storytelling where cute-as-a-button animals talk, adults are buffoons, and the promise of bonafide adventure makes the story worth telling --- and hearing. A collection of three mini-stories full of unlucky captures, heroic escapes and a whole lot of scampering, Emily Bearn's debut works on all fronts.
In the first story entitled "Tumtum & Nutmeg," Bearn sets up the concept for the series simply but with just the right amount of whimsy and suspense to draw in youngsters. Two gangly kids (nerdy Arthur and slightly bossy Lucy) live with their widowed, disheveled dad (an inventor) in a decrepit old house called Rose Cottage. Little do they know that Tumtum and Nutmeg, the delightful Mr. and Mrs. Mouse, have also made the ramshackle cottage home --- in the 36-room lavish miniature mansion, called Nutmouse Hall, hidden behind the bookshelves in the broom closet.
The two worlds, human and mouse, peacefully coexist under one roof like they always have --- Tumtum and Nutmeg tidy up the kids' attic room at night to help out; Arthur and Lucy think a fairy is responsible for the good deed --- until trouble strikes one day. Arthur and Lucy's curmudgeony, mice-fearing Aunt Ivy comes to visit, and all hell breaks loose --- including a rat poisoning, a surprise attack by an army of mice with the Napoleonic General Mousemarch at the helm, and Aunt Ivy's ultimate emotional breakdown (reminiscent of Aunt Spiker or Aunt Sponge from JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH).
The next two stories, "The Great Escape" and "The Pirates' Treasure," are equally as enjoyable --- and entertaining. "The Great Escape" follows the captured General Mousemarch to Arthur and Lucy's school where he is kept amidst naked, unsophisticated gerbils and later rescued by a troupe of dainty mice-ballerinas on pogo sticks. Just like its title sounds, the last saga recounts yet another sticky situation for the bumbling General Mousemarch as he is held for ransom by a band of beastly rat-pirates on a small island in the pond next to Arthur and Lucy's house.
Bearn's roster of characters are a bit of what one might expect to find in these types of British adventure tales, but that doesn't make them any less lovable (or, in Ivy's case, despicable). Nutmeg's generosity is as boundless as General Mousemarch's goofy senselessness is expected, and the siblings are just enough in the background to provide a relatable context for readers.
Will there be more tales of derring-do beyond Nutmouse Hall? And will there be delicate black and white illustrations throughout each book at just the right moments? With Bearn and illustrator Nick Price at the helm, let's hope so.
--- Reviewed by Alexis Burling