Not too long ago a friend of mine approached me at the Children’s desk and asked if we had the book Tumtum and Nutmeg: Adventures Beyond Nutmouse Hall. Who and who, I inquired. Tumtum and Nutmeg Nutmouse, he explained are proper, married mice that live in a thirty-six room mansion hidden in the broom cupboard behind a dresser in a tiny ramshackle cottage in the English countryside. It sounded like a British children’s classic from the early twentieth century. How did I miss that? I made a mental note to look into it, and about a month later when it became available, I held in my hand a rather hefty five-hundred plus page volume by Emily Bearn. It had a very cute and inviting cover illustration, with equally charming and old-fashioned pen and ink drawings by Nick Price gracing the interior. When I checked the publication date I found that my “early children’s classic” was written in 2009.
Ms. Bearn’s award-winning debut novel for children ages 7 – 10 is actually a collection of three novellas published separately in Great Britain. The first, simply titled Tumtum and Nutmeg, lays the groundwork and sets the tone for the entire series and is followed by The Great Escape and The Pirates’ Treasure.
The Nutmouses lead a comfortable, leisurely existence punctuated by tea and toast, homemade meals, good books, and cozy fires; but the human inhabitants of the little cottage don’t fare nearly as well. Lucy and Arthur Mildew live in cramped and cluttered Rose Cottage with their father, an absentminded inventor. He is kind and good-natured, but oblivious to the fact that his children are scruffy and poorly fed and that his little house is falling apart around him. The siblings must share a tiny room in the attic with a leaky ceiling. Even worse, it is the middle of winter and their heater has long since broken down. It is so cold the children can see their breath inside and the butter freezes on the kitchen table.
Tumtum and Nutmeg have been worried about the Mildew children for some time; and their concern only grows as winter progresses. Finally, they can wait no longer. Armed with toolbox, sewing kit, and mop and pail the Nutmouses head for the attic while everyone is asleep – just to tidy up a bit and make a few repairs. Lucy and Arthur think they are being visited by a “Fairy of Sorts,” and all goes well for a while – that is until the evil mouse-hating Aunt Ivy shows up at their door – and the adventures really begin.