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Dorothy Joan Harris (1931-) - Sidelights

mouse jonathan hamster school

Dorothy Joan Harris once told SATA: "The House Mouse sprang from the doings of my own children, for Kim had a doll's house which she never played with (just as Elizabeth had in the book) and Douglas at the age of three liked it (just as Jonathan did in the book). The mouse, though, was purely imaginary, because our house was ruled by a very bossy Siamese cat called Samitu—and Sam would never tolerate any other animal on his property.

"The School Mouse, too, came from my children's experience, arising from the various fears and worries they had about school. Adults tend to forget how real and overpowering fears are to them, even when they seem trivial to grown-ups.

"But though much of my writing springs from actual children, editors do not always believe it. In The House Mouse I originally made Jonathan three years old, and one of the first criticisms I received from editors was that Jonathan did not talk like a three-year-old and should be a six-year-old. I felt like replying that my own three-year-old talked in exactly that way—but instead I compromised and made Jonathan four years old.

Now that my own children are growing up I try to strike up friendships with the children of neighbours and friends, so as to keep in touch with the world of childhood. And I never lose any chance to strike up a friendship with animals, wild or tame—especially with any cat. It takes me a long time to walk along our street because I have to stop and have a word with each cat I meet.

"My own cat, Sam, absolutely hates the sight of me sitting at my typewriter. Even if he is sound asleep under his chair he wakes at the first tap and goes into his act: First he jumps up on the mantelpiece or buffer (so that I have to get up and lift him down), then he jumps up on the typewriter table, drapes his tail over the keyboard, and finally settles on my lap, with both paws firmly clamped on my wrist—which make typing extremely difficult. Someday I'm going to dedicate a book 'To Sam, without whose help I could have finished this darned book in half the time!'"

Jonathan's mouse is special. In all three of his titles, The House Mouse, The School Mouse, and The School Mouse and the Hamster, the little rodent talks to Jonathan and helps the youngster through trying situations. In The School Mouse and the Hamster, for instance, the mouse persuades Jonathan that the other class pet, a hamster, needs goodies and visits. Jonathan and his mouse feed the hamster, and the mouse exercises with the hamster. Confusion develops when the hamster has no appetite or energy during the day. In Goodnight, Jeffrey, a little boy fights going to sleep by playing with his daytime toys, until he finds a trusty stuffed animal that lulls him into inactivity. Harris's Don't Call Me Sugarbaby! is based on the true-life story of a friend's daughter who developed childhood onset diabetes. The book explores the life-altering changes for the girl and her family as she copes with a chronic condition. A Maclean's reviewer felt that the story "rings true in its detailing of the disease."

Biographical and Critical Sources

PERIODICALS

Maclean's, July 4, 1983, review of Don't Call Me Sugarbaby!, p. 50.

Publishers Weekly, September 9, 1983, review of Goodnight, Jeffrey, p. 65.

School Library Journal, March, 1980, Patricia Smith Butcher, review of The School Mouse and the Hamster, p. 121; December, 1983, Margaret C. Howell, review of Goodnight, Jeffrey, p. 56.*

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