by Meghan Marentette
Illustrated by Dean Griffiths
October 15, 2013
Gone are the days of innocent children's stories in which anthropomorphized animals experience relaxed lives of friendly outings. Maybe older readers will remember the animal novels more typical of earlier times, in which ordinary life was exciting enough. There was The Wind in the Willows (Kenneth Grahame, 1908), Winnie-the-Pooh (A. A. Milne, 1926) and Charlotte's Web (E. B. White, 1952). The Stowaways will return older readers to their memories of these favourite and introduce younger readers to a similarly delightful tale of a family of mice known as the Stowaways.
The Stowaways family, always known as an ancestral line of explorers and adventurers, currently centers around Papa and Mama, twin boys Rory and Morgan, their baby sister Bimble, and Gran. With Grampa having disappeared long ago while on an adventure, Papa is very strict about the adventures they take beyond Biggle's Farm into the World Beyond, emphasizing a plethora of rules to keep everyone safe. But Gran is convinced that Grampa is still out there, and the adventure-craving Rory is happy to believe this as well.
While life in the country may seem charming, the mice of their community, known as Weedle mice, are less than welcoming to the Stowaways who had come from town originally. The Weedles accuse them of hoarding, looking down on the Weedles and threatening their safety with their relationships with townies. Surprisingly, when the Stowaways head to town for a family adventure at the market, Papa doesn't want them to trade with the town mice who disrespect the Weedle mice, calling them "naked country bumpkins" (pg. 47). Still, Rory purchases a book of mouse tales, particularly curious about "The Proud Mouse and the Trap", convinced that it's about his Grampa.
When Rory discovers the specifics about his grandfather's disappearance, he and his Gran slip away to the Museum of Natural Curiosity while the rest of the family have their own unexpected adventures at Sparkle's Toyshop. An exhibit at the Museum and some new acquaintances direct Gran and Rory in their investigations, resulting in a new series of adventures, some life-threatening. While Papa and Mama, Bimble and Morgan return home, they learn that sometimes safety is just an illusion and adventures can arise spontaneously, wanted or not.
Meghan Marentette re-introduces readers to the charm of family stories that don't rely on preachy social commentary, unending action, or shock and violence to grab readers' attentions. The appeal of these books, as with The Stowaways, lies in the bonds of family and friendship, and steadfastness of loyalty and compassion. With the inspired selection of Dean Griffiths as illustrator, the genial nature of the story and characters are even more compounded. While the elements of fantasy allow the delightful Stowaways (the family) to speak, build bicycles, and make Juneberry Paste, it's their solidarity and amiability, courtesy of Meghan Marentette and Dean Griffiths, that elevates The Stowaways (the book) to its unconventional but quaint familial richness.