Toe Shoe Mouse by Jan Carr, illustrated by Jennifer A. Bell



"I love this book. Will you read it to me every night?"


"All the tension and beauty of the ballet are magnified in this melodramatic mouse tale. Little Tendu (that's "Stretch" for us English speakers) scampers gracefully through all the areas of a beautiful old-fashioned ballet theater as he flees a predatory cat, broom-wielding custodian, and gang of ruthless rats until he finds the perfect home: the lamb's-wool-lined toe of a pink-satin pointe shoe. In this new picture book from Carr, the reader gets a mouse's-eye view of the theater's murky back passages, costume workshop, and the chandelier-lit theater itself, with its velvet seats and ornate plasterwork. Like a character in a classic ballet, our adventurous rodent hero experiences rapture, terror, and longing before finding a safe haven—and a new friend—in a dancer’s quiet dressing room. Bell’s digitally colored pencil illustrations are full of soft hues, rounded sketchy lines, and lots of chintzy ribbons and roses, which give the story a classic, nostalgic look. Hand this to aspiring ballerinas who can’t get enough of the ballet world."— Paula Willey


"In a comically formal first-person account, the mouse recounts how, while fleeing from rats, he found himself in a grand old theater and discovered the beautiful sounds and movements of ballet. His efforts to make himself at home go awry when theatergoers and on-stage performers chase him away, but he finds refuge in a “small satin crevice” in a room filled with toe shoes, flowers, costumes and a ballerina... Carr’s tale is sweetly told with just a hint of danger... Bell’s pencil and digitally rendered illustrations in teals and rosy pinks provide a pretty setting for a pretty little tale. A honey-coated story of interspecies friendship."


"A young mouse fleeing for her life from a cat escapes a city’s sewer through a small hole and finds herself in a beautiful theater. Enchanted by the music and the ballet dancers on stage, she longs to stay there... Tendu is charming, with her oversize ears and soft round form, while Céleste is lithe and kind. The soft pastel palette and details such as vases with roses and small decorative perfume bottles and boxes create a romantic, graceful, Old World feel. The illustrations from Tendu’s perspective capture how scary just the feet of the custodian are, not to mention his broom. Curled up in a ballet slipper, Tendu looks vulnerable and irresistible. This resourceful and enthusiastic little mouse captures the beauty and wonder of the world of ballet."


"Toe Shoe Mouse is a charming tale of a developing human-mouse friendship where the mouse takes the initiative and the human is very open to getting to know her little friend. There's also lots of action as the mouse runs from a cat, rats, and a custodian with his broom. Jennifer A. Bell's adorable illustrations capture every emotion on both friends' faces -- the scared and resourceful mouse, and the sweet, dedicated ballerina who's happy to make Tendu her pet -- and dance with him.

This is a fresh take on a ballet book and a mouse adventure story -- sure to engage tiny dancers and mouse fans alike. The mouse's gentle, semi-formal narration makes it easy to connect with the characters. And Bell's pencil and digitally rendered illustrations in a rose and teal palette, nicely varied from long shots to close-ups, capture the danger and delicacy of the budding friendship. A fun story to read aloud."


Toe Shoe Mouse is right on pointe with artwork by Jennifer A. Bell, rendered in pencil then colored digitally in a soft romantic palette, sure to please ballerinas of all ages. The writing is as exquisite a composition as befits a ballet. The dance of friendship … timeless. It should be noted that Toe Shoe Mouse is wordier than many current picture books, but in a good way. Jan Carr’s writing is reminiscent of the late great Beatrix Potter. Bravo! -- MaryAnne Locher


Illustrated by Jennifer A. Bell

After taking refuge in a grand old theater, a resourceful and endearing little mouse falls in love with dance, wins the heart of a ballerina -- and at last finds a welcoming home!


Le Palais Garnier Theater in Paris, home of the Paris Opera Ballet
I first got the idea for this book when I was visiting Paris. Since I love ballet, I decided to visit the theater that houses the Paris Opera Ballet, Le Palais Garnier. I plunked down a few euros for a self-guided tour, and walked around ogling all the wildly sumptuous beauty of the place. You may already know of this theater since it’s the setting for The Phantom of the Opera– watch out for falling chandeliers!

In addition to its famed chandelier, the theater also has a domed ceiling painted by Chagall, and an eye-confounding trompe l’oeil curtain masking the stage. I was entranced! Like Tendu, the little mouse in my story, I thought, “I’d like to stay here!”

One way to stay in a place, at least in one’s imagination, is to write about it. So the first drafts of my story were set very specifically in Le Palais Garnier, with mentions of the Chagall ceiling and the trompe l’oeil curtain I’d loved. But my editor Grace Maccarone pointed out that it might be difficult to secure rights to reproduce the art. She suggested that I set the story in an unnamed, unspecified theater, and that would have the added advantage of allowing an illustrator to more freely imagine it.


Toe Shoe Mouse art by Jennifer A. Bell. This is the way she imagined the theater.
At first I wasn't sure. Le Palais Garnier had been my inspiration! But as I started to rework the text to conform to Grace’s suggestion, I realized that it actually helped the book. And that was because picture books have to tell a story with so little text; every word and image contribute significantly. And in this case, editing out the specific details about Le Palais Garnier took the emphasis away from the theater itself and put it more squarely on the heart of the story, the friendship between the mouse and the ballerina and their shared loved of dance.

Toe Shoe Mouse art by Jennifer A. Bell
Another place where Grace had an idea that expanded upon mine was the choice of illustrator. I wanted an illustrator who was conversant with ballet, who could render the ballerina’s tendu with a turned-out foot, and the arabesque with a turned-out leg. It always jars me when I see illustrations of ballet dancers in which the positions are inexact since ballet is such an exact art, and I assumed Grace would agree with me since she herself is a longtime student of ballet. But though Grace did agree to look for a ballet-savvy illustrator, she pointed out that the book wouldn’t work without an endearing portrait of a mouse. So she wanted to look for an illustrator who was skilled at rendering animals with charm. And luckily for me, she found Jennifer A. Bell, who excelled at all the challenges she was given – the sumptuousness of the theater, the sweet charm of the mouse, and the beauty of ballet.

Jennifer even got the details of the costume shop right. Though she and I never communicated directly before the book came out, the spread she did of the costume shop looked much like a costume shop I had once visited, at New York City Ballet. To read more about that, check out my blog post Authors & Illustrators: The Mystery of Collaboration.


When I first got the idea for the story, I wrote this in my writer's notebook:

Mouse who lives in Opera Garnier. Nests in toe shoe against lambswool. Uses tulle/tutus as nesting materials. Loves Chagall sky and music. Fooled by Trompe l'oeil curtain.

I will not go into the disturbing details of how it is I arrived at the ballet. Suffice it to say that it involved a cat with glittering teeth and cruel claws, and a chase through the Paris sewers. Fortunately for me, the sewers run directly under the Opera Garnier.

Interesting that the first lines of the story survived almost intact! Only the specifics of the Paris setting were edited out.

This text, edited in galleys, shows specific details of the Paris theater that were edited out. In this case, the arched Chagall painting on the ceiling, and the chandelier that hangs there.


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