Horatio Squeak is Karen Foxlee’s debut picture book, about a meek little mouse who is invited to a party. Not just any party — a party hosted by kittens!
When a nervous Horatio Squeak takes a thimble of crumbs from his encouraging Mum – ‘Head up! Whiskers out!’ – and sets off on an adventure to the party upstairs, he shows us that while it might help to appear brave, you don’t necessarily need to be big or strong to be brave. Horatio musters a quiet bravery in order to get to the top of the stairs. In doing so, he discovers the rewards of stepping out of his comfort zone — navigating and admiring the grand old house (reminiscent of the house in Mary Norton’s The Borrowers), and eventually making it to the green attic door where games, crackers and cheese await with his new and unexpected kitten friends.
That’s quite an achievement for one meek little mouse, but when a poor robin becomes just another game for the kittens, Horatio is challenged to listen and voice his feelings (‘It’s cruel!’) to his new friends. In speaking up for the helpless bird, his safety and new friendships are at risk.
Foxlee gently points out the importance of speaking up for those treated unjustly, and as Horatio does so, politely. Perhaps in Horatio’s next adventure, strategies on speaking up for ourselves when faced with unkindness or bullying can be touched upon.
The ending is satisfying as Horatio retraces his steps back down the stairs of the grand house, feeling a lot less small than he did on the way up, and feeling proud as he spies out the window his feathered friend flying free.
Foxlee’s rhymes scan well; they are charming and remind me of Julia Copus’ Hog in the Fog, a read aloud favourite of mine and my daughter’s.
This is illustrator Evie Barrow’s first picture book. Her gouache and pencil illustrations are bright, textured and very, very sweet. While Horatio certainly appears timid, Barrow also captures his quiet, inquisitive and thoughtful nature. The warm and cosy colour palette has a timeless feel to it and the bright red pops of colour give it a modern and vibrant touch.
Horatio Squeak is about giving unlikely friends a chance and being brave despite your fears. It’s not enough to listen to your true feelings — one needs to voice those thoughts, even if it is just a squeak! With its gorgeous illustrations, generous size and pretty endpapers, the book is beautifully presented — certainly one to keep. I’ll end the review with my 6-year-old daughter’s thoughts, ‘Read it again!’ We’re hoping there are more of Horatio Squeak’s adventures to come.
Michelle Wanasundera is a children’s book reviewer and writer based in the Blue Mountains. She has recently self-published her first picture book, Bubbles and Puddles. You can view Michelle’s reviews on her blog. She is also on Facebook and Twitter.