If you haven’t read the first book in this series, then PLEASE DO! Anna has created a brilliant historical fiction series; Pip the mouse is forced away from her home after a bomb destroys her lifelong home. She joins Noah’s Ark, a group of animals fighting with the resistance in France underneath the shoes of the soldiers.
Umbrella Mouse to the Rescue follows on from the story, in August 1944. Pip dreams of reaching her ancestral home in Italy, but it is a perilous journey to get there from France. With the help of her friends in Noah’s Ark, she sees she might have to sacrifice everything to fight for freedom.
Both books in this series are so well written. Historical fiction is so often seen from the perspective of people; writing it as Pip, the mouse, allows children to access the ideas of war and conflict even further. The description of events and settings in both stories are developed by Sam Usher’s fantastic illustrations. I adore the covers – they really pull you in!
I could continue telling you how fantastic ‘Umbrella Mouse to the Rescue’ really is, but who else is better to explain it than the author? Here, Anna Fargher tells us all about Pip, and how she wrote the stories:
1. Did you always envisage there being a sequel, or did it develop as you wrote the first book?
The Umbrella Mouse was a standalone at first. I wrote it for myself, not really believing a story about a mouse that lived inside an umbrella and joined the French Resistance would ever get published. But if an editor ever did want to turn it into a book, as I hoped, I was always open to a sequel.
2. Why do you think the themes of the book are important to children?
I imagine it’s because The Umbrella Mouse books are classic adventure stories full of bravery, struggle, friendship and fighting for those you love. Pip also has universal motivations we can all relate to – to have a home and a family.
3. The books both focus on the Second World War. Why did you choose this time in history?
I picked a WWII setting for a couple of reasons. I knew I wanted to write a war story after I read a series of statistics over the years, revealing how little people were remembering about the world wars. I was worried and confused by them. As a child, I had felt well informed about WWI and WWII. I realised it was historical books, such as Goodnight Mr Tom, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, The Silver Sword, War Horse and The Diary of Anne Frank that had made me care about the past. I hoped a new work of historical fiction would pique contemporary children’s interest and encourage them to learn more.
I chose WWII for a personal reason. When my grandfather’s Spitfire was shot down over Brittany in 1944, the French Resistance rescued him. He escaped Nazi-occupied France on a dark, moonless night thanks to a teenage girl who led him over a minefield leaving a trail of white handkerchiefs. Shortly afterwards, some of the men, women and children who helped him were killed for doing so.
I wanted to write a French Resistance story as a way of remembering the incredible efforts these ordinary people made for our freedom.
4. How do animals help children understand the emotions and themes of war?
It’s been argued that animals can provide more emotional distance when introducing difficult themes such as war because the suspension of disbelief makes it less disturbing. For example, if you were to substitute animals for humans in Watership Down, Bambi or The Lion King, I think you’ll agree that the violent scenes would feel more graphic if they were human characters.
5. What made you choose a mouse as your main character?
Her size. I think we can all feel as small as mice sometimes, especially when we’re children and grown-ups are in control of everything, and even as adults we can feel helpless when politicians are in charge of sending us to war. But just because you’re small doesn’t mean you are powerless. The resistance networks in WWII knew this. Every effort, big or small, whether it was passing on a little piece of intelligence or sabotaging a train, weakened the enemy and made a difference to the outcome of the war. Nobody has to be big to be brave, and Pip embodies that.
6. Which book did you enjoy writing more? Why?
I don’t know! I really enjoyed writing them both. In my mind, they are one long book. I had more confidence in writing the second because I had already got to know the plot, the characters and I’d built the world, but neither book was easy to write. The Umbrella Mouse was my first creative writing attempt since my A-Levels. I’m definitely still learning, and self-doubt often sits beside me at my desk, but I’ve honestly loved every minute of mine and Pip’s journey so far.
7. What’s next…?! Can we have a sneaky clue about what you’re writing now?
All I can say is it’s a standalone historical adventure with animals.
A huge thank you to Anna for answering my questions! Hopefully you loved reading her replies as much as I did. I’d love to hear what you think of the books, if you’ve read them too!
Like the sound of this book? Buy it here: https://amzn.to/39JEdWP