The Book Mouse of Kallio Library
written by Hannele
illustrated by Riina Åkerman
translated from the original Finnish by Britt and Philip Gaut
At night the Book Mouse was always afraid. When the door shut behind the last client of the day, and the librarian walked around inspecting all the nooks and crannies, his tummy began churning with terror.
From under the shelf his mouse-brown eyes followed the librarian as she collected forgotten scarves or other odds and ends.
The clickety-clack of her tick-tack shoes echoed eerily all around, from the walls and even from the high-domed ceiling.
She closed the doors and, one by one, she turned off the lights. The library got darker and darker, and the little Book Mouse began to tremble.
At last she would lock the front door. The big building was empty.
The Book Mouse had always been a bit strange. He loved daytime and bright sunlight. He didn't like the night, as mice generally do. To be sure, his mother had taught him how to use his whiskers and tiptoe in the dusk of evening, but the Book Mouse preferred to play during the day and to bask in the warmth of the sun.
That's how he came to be in the library in the first place: he had run from school with the children, as a stow-away in Peter's knapsack.
Now he lived all alone under the shelf. And at night he was very scared.
All day long he listened to the children chattering away, and kept an eye out for the library staff from his hiding place. But at night, bats fluttered under the dome of the roof, and witches rapped on the windows with their broom-sticks. Sometimes, feeling a cold breeze in his fur, the little mouse would imagine the old ghosts of the library brushing past.
At times like that his heart would thump, like a clock that could be heard far and wide. The mouse was quite sure that he would soon end up in the jaws of a ghost or, at least, that a witch would nip his ear.
Greater horrors he couldn't even imagine.
Then, one day, the librarian got all absent-minded and dreamy. She'd fallen in love! She read fairy tales, and guides to kissing, and forgot to do many of the things she ought to do. In the evenings she would sit, staring, as the moonlight shone in through the library window, smiling entranced at the stars. She would get up, with small dance steps, and sing to herself. And, when she left, she didn't always remember to turn off the lights.
One night she even forgot to switch off her computer.
"I wonder what that is twinkling over there?" thought the Book Mouse. So he scrambled up on the desk to explore the screen of the computer.
"Hi there!" said the computer mouse.
Oh boy! How that startled the Book Mouse! He leapt in the air, trembling like a leaf in gale.
"Hi there!" said the computer mouse.
The Book Mouse was staring at the computer mouse in utter amazement. Surely this was no ordinary mouse! Its tail was joined to this machine, and it was bald and smooth, and not very nice to look at, but at least it was grey like a mouse should be.
"I didn't get switched off," said the computer mouse.
"How do you mean, 'switched off'?"
"I work by electricity, and they switch me on and off," said the computer mouse.
The Book Mouse put its paw on the smooth back of the computer mouse. It didn't feel electrical at all.
"Don't stroke me too much, or you'll end up in the net," said the computer mouse.
"Net? What net?"
Already the Book Mouse was delighted with his new companion. As his spirits rose he didn't feel afraid any more. In fact, he was getting more and more curious. What on earth did this electrical mouse mean by 'the net'?
What was this new friend of his catching with a net?
Fish or birds?
"How can you catch fish in a library?" asked the Book Mouse. "Where is your net?"
The wire-tailed computer mouse stared at the Book Mouse, flabbergasted. How could anybody ask such stupid things!
The computer mouse sighed. Then there was a little CLICK, and a magical mousehole began to appear on the screen.
"In we go!" said the computer mouse and, with another CLICK-CLICK, a hatchway closed behind them.
The Book Mouse looked around. He had entered a fantastic realm! Above and below him, beside and behind him there were roads, trails, flightpaths,rivers, streams and little brooks.
There were wanderers of all sorts! Brownies and gnomes, butterfly princes, elves and fairies,
a puss in boots and a girl in a carriage pulled by a team of mice.
In the brooks were mermaids and water monsters, diving bells and fish with shimmering scales. And under each scale were three wishes.
This is the fairy tale net of this library," introduced the computer mouse.
"Can you fish for fairy tales here?" asked the Book Mouse.
"Yes indeed!" said the computer mouse, and it clicked again.
The Book Mouse had never heard of fishing like this. The computer mouse taught him to click, and with fine clicks-and-jumps the Book Mouse got to the start of new paths time and time again. This was real leaping! The Book Mouse was swift and nimble, so he quickly became a skilful net-fisher.
He nosily investigated the waters of the brooks to see what kinds of folk were swimming there.
There was Thumbelina, sailing on her waterlily-leaf, pulled by two butterflies. Captain Ahab sped down stream pursuing the Great White Whale. The tiny tin soldier had a paper boat, while a cheerful little boy surfed the foaming waves on the back of a dolphin. Sinbad the Sailor sailed towards the Book Mouse, and behind him glided a pirate ship flying a Jolly Roger from its mast.
The strangest thing about this realm was that all the rivers and streams seemed to flow directly towards the Book Mouse-as if the poor little mouse was the big ocean, able to hold it all. And it seemed as if he could! Time and again the Book Mouse clicked-and-leaped-and-skipped, to new streams and paths and airways. And all the roads and all the characters disappeared into him, even though he was so small.
"What a fantastic place!" sighed the Book Mouse, as two happy-looking people floated towards him on a magic carpet.
"You can read about all these things in books," said the computer mouse. Then, just as it was about to explain more, there was a CRASH. The whole magical place went black in an instant! The computer mouse looked dead, and the mousehole of the screen was impossible to find in the darkness.
This dreadful accident had happened because the library caretaker, walking past the building, had seen light shining through the window and had come in to check. He switched off the lights and, of course, the computer too.
The Book Mouse banged on the wall with his paws and cried for help, but his squeak was weak and the caretaker didn't hear him. But, wonders of wonders, the Book Mouse had become braver! He soon stopped whimpering.
"I'm fond of adventures, I'm fond of adventures," he hummed to himself, and he started making a cosy sleeping place in one corner of the computer and lay down to rest. In his dreams he met Little Red Riding Hood, and Hansel and Gretel, and he felt like Robinson Mouse-o on a desert island.
In the morning, when the librarian switched everything on again, the Book Mouse woke with a terrible start. He hurled himself out of the computer, scrambled across the desk and disappeared under the book shelf.
"Eeek!" screamed the librarian as she jumped up on the desk.
At that very moment an entire school class happened to be in the library. All the children rushed to the desk, staring in amazement at the librarian, as she held up the hem of her dress and clattered her shoes.
"Eeek!" she screamed.
"What are you screaming for?" asked the children.
"I'm practising my flamenco," stuttered the librarian, her face red with embarrassment. As the children continued to stare at her, she explained that flamenco was a dance from Spain and, if you got really carried away by it, you could even dance up on a table.
"Are you carried away then?" asked Peter, who thought that the librarian looked more terrified than enthusiastic.
"I'm terrifically enthusiastic about computers," replied the librarian and clattered her shoes again.
Under his shelf the Book Mouse was smiling happily. He no longer feared anything, because he'd been on a great adventure in the fairy tale net. Now he felt like a big and mighty mouse. Even the librarian had fled from him!
Outside the weather was grey and the clouds hung low, but the Book Mouse retreated contentedly to his reading corner, planning to read many fairy tales.
As dusk fell, and the library lights went off, the Book Mouse realised that inside-in your mind-it can still be clear and light, even though the night is dark.
In your mind it can be sunny, no matter how much the storms are raging outside. In his mind, even a plain grey mouse can be a gallant mouse-prince!
And the Book Mouse set off in the dark towards the computer to see if, by any chance, the computer mouse might still be switched on.