The Railway Mice of Countesthorpe by Sharon E Laker is an old-fashioned tale of mice and their adventures in the Leicestershire village of Countesthorpe.
This book appealed to me for several reasons. First, I’ve always loved animal stories for children, from The Wind in the Willows through Mrs Frisby all the way to Redwall and Watership Down and (more recently) Varjak Paw. In fact, the first three (unpublished!) books I wrote were about rabbits – and possibly one of the reasons I didn’t get much interest in them was because animal stories are a little bit out of fashion. Which makes it all the more delightful to find a book like The Railway Mice of Countesthorpe.
Next, it’s about Leicestershire – a county poorly served by children’s fiction. I’ve lived here for well over 20 years, but I’m struggling to come up with many books set here. There was Sue Townsend, of course – she was famously from this city, but were the Adrian Mole books set in Leicester? And there’s Bali Rai, too. But there’s not a lot out there. Maybe I should write something about my adopted home city…
Next, the main plot is about McGee, a Scottish mouse who finds himself amongst the Countesthorpe mice and has to enlist their help to find his way home. As a Scot living down here amongst the Leicester folk, this struck a chord with me. (Although the Scottish dialect was a wee bit dodgy!)
A special mention must be made about Eileen Boyd’s illustrations, which are absolutely delightful.
The story has an enormous cast of varied characters, with a host of mice, young and old (I liked Whoo Whoo!) a couple of suspiciously friendly predators in Foxy the fox and Owl the owl, along with some particularly nasty rats.
After a series of adventures and fun and games, the mice work together to help their new friend. This is a good-natured book, full of the meandering warmth of a summer day, and infused with gentleness and friendship.