Book: Tillie and the Wall (1989) by Leo Lionni
Category/Age: Older Picture Book, 2+ Years
All her life Tillie the mouse has wondered what lies on the other side of the wall. Imagining all sorts of fantastic possibilities, she digs a tunnel to get to the other side, where she discovers . . . other mice, just like her! Together, Tillie and her friends work to bring down the wall and unite mouse-kind. Written just before the fall of the Berlin wall, this seemingly simple fable has a powerful message for all children—and all people.
Huh. I just learned, about two seconds ago, about the Berlin wall context of this book. Even without the historical significance, this is an awesome, awesome book. I think the two words from the blurb, “seemingly simple”, capture it perfectly – story and illustrations. There are so many great things layered into this book: a character who questions the status quo, fights against a seemingly insurmountable barrier, fails again and again before succeeding, then unites her people (well, mice). Not to mention the adorable mice in the illustrations. I defy you to find a more adorable mouse than any of Leo Lionni’s mice.
I’ll try to limit myself to talking a little bit more about only two of the above points: failure and the subtle “her”. I recently read an interesting (despite the annoying GIFs) blog post about failure, and I’ve been thinking a lot about it. I think it’s wonderful that Tillie and the Wall can be used to encourage kids (and adults) that it’s ok to fail; in fact that it’s a normal part of life. I am by nature a very cautious person, and when I encounter failure my first reaction is to curl up in my shell and retreat (as much as one can retreat in a shell). I’ll try to be more like Tillie in the coming year: if something doesn’t work the way I want it to – or at all – I’ll regroup and try again.
The second thing I wanted to mention is how refreshing it is to have a book that has a female main character without making a big deal about it. I think it’s important for there to be diversity in books, both to show our kids that not everyone looks like us, and also that there are other people out there that look like they do. We all like books – to some degree at least – when they feature people we relate to, and all children should be able to pick up a book and say “look, Momma, that character is [a girl/black/redheaded/short/adopted/wears yellow polka dot socks] just like me!” However, the cynic in me sometimes has to roll her eyes a little bit with the books that are so carefully diverse you feel like you’re being hit over the head with it. This book is a story about Tillie. She happens to be a girl mouse. Done.
What is your favorite Lionni book? Wouldn’t you love to have a cute little mouse like Tillie?
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