Amherst Bulletin

Holiday rodents invade story hour at Eric Carle

By Bonnie Wells

Published on November 11, 2005

LAST week researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis reported their findings that mice can sing - coming as no surprise to the protagonists of Corinne Demas' latest picture book for children, who knew it all along.

On Christmas eve, each of the mice featured in ''Two Christmas Mice'' (Holiday House, 2005) has a date to go caroling with her respective rodential pals. ''They sang to the squirrels at the edge of the woods,'' the narrator recounts, ''since, as you know, squirrels are fond of carols but can never remember the words.''

The excerpt combines quintessential Demas humor and alignment with her young readers. She will tell the tale in person at a story hour at the Eric Carle Museum in Amherst on Saturday at 2 p.m., along with a reading of her book ''The Littlest Matryoshka (Hyperion Books, 1999), illustrated by Kathryn Brown of Deerfield.

Later in the month, Nov. 26 at 1 p.m., Demas will read at the Jeffery Amherst Bookshop in Amherst, joined by Leslea Newman, who will read from her new book, ''The Eight Nights of Chanukah'' (Abrams, 2005), illustrated by Elivia Savadier.

Demas, an Amherst resident, is a professor of English at Mount Holyoke College and a fiction editor of The Massachusetts Review. Among her published works are collections of short stories, novels, a memoir and many books for children.

Her bittersweet 2004 ''Saying Goodbye to Lulu,'' (Little Brown & Co.) illustrated by Ard Hoyt, won the 2004 ASPCA Henry Bergh Children's Book Award, as well as a 2005 Best Book Award Gold Seal from the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio, the independent guide to children's media. The book tells how a girl navigates the death of her spunky dog, Lulu.

Last week in a phone conversation, Demas read a ''Lulu'' letter she received from a young reader:

''I loved your book 'Saying Goodbye to Lulu.' It made my heart pump, pump, like when you go off a jump on your bike and when you hit the ground or fall.''

''I read them and it makes me want to write more,'' Demas said.

Another young fan wrote: ''Every time my teacher reads your book, she cries, and someone else has to take over.''

It was partly to move to more joyous themes that Demas followed up ''Lulu'' with ''Two Christmas Mice.'' The book started out over a decade ago as a handmade Christmas present for her goddaughter. It was a shared project with her own young daughter, who did the illustrations. A page from the original can be seen on Demas' Web site, www.corineedemas.com.

There you can also see the lengths that California artist Stephanie Roth went to in creating the book's charming illustrations. In a photo, she holds in her hands two live mice, which bear a striking resemblance to the book's Willamouse and Annamouse.

''When I called her up and she said she had gotten two mice for research, I thought she meant stuffed mice,'' Demas said. ''But it turned out they were live mice. Among the things she learned was that they are nocturnal, so she had to watch them in the middle of the night.''

Then there were the vet bills. Seems the tykes had teeth problems.

No teeth problems for Willamouse and Annamouse though. Just a blizzard that keeps one from getting Christmas decorations for her tree, and the other from getting a tree for her decorations. Mozart plays a role in getting the two together for a joyous shared Christmas celebration.

''That's the wonderful thing that holidays can do,'' Demas says. ''Friends and family come together to become something more altogether.''