Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Mice in the Piano

Read Charlotte Canelli's column in the August 17, 2012 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin or listen to the podcast on SoundCloud. Podcasts are archived on the Voices from the Library page of the library website.

I knew all along that it was a very big mistake to store my piano in the garage. At the time I thought it would only be a few short months and it had, of course, the snow blower, leaf blower and lawn mower and other assorted tools to keep it company before we would be moving it inside where it belonged.

Of course, a few months became four seasons and four seasons became a bit more than a year. Finally moving day came and my piano and I exhaled a huge sigh of relief as it was carted up the front steps of our new home and snuggled against an interior wall, once again inside the house.

A few weeks later I made an appointment for a professional tune-up. My lovely piano , I thought, had survived its year of living dangerously.

Imagine my utter surprise when I checked in on the process and discovered the piano technician taking great pains to vacuum debris and detritus from the inside of my piano. Amused, she explained that she had found a soft, downy nest on top of the upper octave, just below the lid and on top of the hammers. Apparently, a cute couple of mice had stumbled upon this cozy spot to raise a family. She described just how these little creatures ran down the soundboard behind the piano wires all day long, nibbling on the soft wooden hammers at dinnertime. They left behind plenty of evidence of many hours, days or weeks spent raising a ruckus and they must have enjoyed their home immensely.

Fortunately, they had the good sense to abandon ship sometime before the move but I was still horrified.

Once I recovered from the shock and humiliation, I learned that there was, miraculously, little harm done. It was at that point that the piano tuner’s tale conjured up visions of a rather amusing time for this large family of mice. As a librarian, I could only imagine a children’s book full of whimsical illustrations and fanciful text.

I probably will never write that children’s book. Yet, I realized at that moment that this was one of the lessons in life that might have inspired one.

“Everything I Need to Know I Learned From a Children’s Book: Life Lessons From Notable People From All Walks of Life” edited by Anita Silvey , was published in 2009. Silvey is a former professor of children’s book publishing at Simmons College in Boston where many New England librarians studied and received their degrees. She was editor in chief of the Horn Book and a vice president of Houghton Mifflin’s children’s book division. Silvey asked more than a hundred influential people what children’s book had “changed the way you see the world” and just as many answered and shared their story. Among these respected and admired writers, singers, scientists are Steve Wozniak, Pete Seeger, Ann Tyler and David McCullough. It is a collection of wonderful essays along with excerpts and illustrations from the books that inspired them along with “Harriet the Spy” and “The Little Prince”.

One of my favorite books to curl up with for hours is “1001 Children’s Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up” edited by Julia Eccleshare in 2009. It’s a heavy tome at nearly 1000 pages and includes a century of wonderful children’s books that are essential to lovers of children’s literature. There is something for everyone in it from well-known favorites to those that are a bit obscure or no longer published. Children’s library collections include many of these classics and some might be on a dusty bookshelf in your own home. From “We’re Going On a Bear Hunt” by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury to “The Wind in the Willows” by Kenneth Graham, there are over a thousand gems that make us laugh (“Mr. Popper’s Penguins”), make us cry (“Old Yeller”) or make us think (“The Velveteen Rabbit”).

If I were ambitious and talented, of course, I would delightfully describe the adventures of my mischievous mice in a children’s book. I might read “So You Want to Write a Children’s Book: An Insider’s Handbook for Children’s Writers and Illustrators Who Want to Get Published” by Peter Carver (2011.) If you have no idea where to begin, this handbook will certainly inspire you. Carver is a children’s book editor who explains that writing the book is difficult and getting it published is more so. He shares his wisdom and knowledge and this book is a guide to the entire process.

Another is “The Everything Guide to Writing Children’s Books: How to Write, Publish, and Promote Books for Children of All Ages!” by Luke Wallin (2011). Wallin includes chapters on coping with rejection from publishers, learning a writer’s rights and breaking into the competitive world of children’s book publishing.

My children’s book that was inspired by a near-disastrous infestation of rodents remains in my imagination. It is full of capricious illustrations of a joyful mouse family that discovers the wonder behind the piano strings and in the nooks and crannies found under the lid and above the pedals. It describes the amazing slide of the upright soundboard and a cozy nest of recycled pillow stuffing. It also shares a lesson that pianos should never, ever be stored in a garage, a basement or an empty house.

If you would like to reserve any of the titles above please call the Reference or Information desks of the library, 781-769-0200, or visit the Minuteman Library Network catalog online to reserve them.