The Mouse and the Motorcycle – Book Review
“A motorcycle that looked as real as this one had to run. The secret of making it run must be perfectly simple if only Ralph had someone to show him what it was” (p. 25)
This sentence does not seem particularly intriguing until the reader discovers Ralph is actually a mouse. Can a mouse really ride a toy motorcycle? Books allow people to use their imaginations to experience the most exciting adventures, and fiction stories are especially exciting as the reader is transported into many adventures that could not possibly happen. In Beverly Cleary’s The Mouse and the Motorcycle, a mouse named Ralph experiences great adventures riding through the hallways of an old hotel, and since these adventures are very similar to the adventures of a real child, there are many lessons applicable to a child’s life that can be gained through reading this story.
The story of a mouse named Ralph is a thrilling story of the adventures of a mouse who lives in a hotel. One day a boy named Keith comes to stay in the hotel room, and Keith’s parents, Mr. & Mrs. Gridley stay in the next room. Keith has a red, toy motorcycle that Ralph is intrigued by. When Keith and his family leave the room, Ralph tries to ride the motorcycle. The first, exciting ride lands Ralph inside of the trashcan. Knowing that his life is in danger, Ralph unsuccessfully tries to escape. Fortunately, Keith returns later, searches frantically for his missing motorcycle, and is fascinated to find a mouse in his trashcan. Because Keith and Ralph can understand each other’s speech, a friendship begins, and Keith teaches Ralph to ride the motorcycle. Keith even leaves the door open a crack so that Ralph can ride around the hotel at night while the guests are sleeping and hopefully return safely to Keith’s room before morning.
However, when Ralph rides the motorcycle back into Keith’s room, Mrs. Gridley sees the mouse and shrieks in terror. Keith comes to Ralph’s rescue, hides him, and protects Ralph’s secret. A bond is formed between Keith and Ralph, and Keith brings food for Ralph’s family, who lives in the wall. The food is so good that Ralph’s extended mouse family, who also live in the hotel’s walls, consider Keith their “room service” and look forward to the tasty meals he brings each day.
Keith is very fond of his red motorcycle and wants to hide it during the daytime, but Ralph pleads, “Aw, come on… Have a heart. Leave it someplace where I can get it while you’re out during the day” (p. 65). Keith agrees and leaves the motorcycle under the bed. Disaster strikes the next day when the maid is directed to clean under the beds, a place where the maid usually does not clean. As the vacuum cleaner sucks Ralph into the hose, he frantically holds onto the motorcycle and drives it away – straight into a white trap! Will Ralph perish in the laundry room? What will become of Keith’s red motorcycle?
Ralph works in desperation to save his own life and to save the red motorcycle that he had been instructed to use at nighttime only. In a moment of turmoil, Ralph must decide between saving his own life or staying with the motorcycle and being destroyed. As a result of the crisis, Ralph must make some important decisions. Ralph must face the fact that he disobeyed by riding during the daytime, that he lost Keith’s special motorcycle, and that he acted irresponsibly.
During the story, Ralph experiences many of the same emotions that humans experience. The fact that the experiences are real to humans allows this book to relate so well to its readers. For instance, Ralph is excited by the motorcycle and cannot resist the urge to touch it even though humans were known dangers to his family. The pleasure that Ralph experiences as he speeds down the hallways of the hotel reflects the enjoyment that people have when doing things that they have always wanted to accomplish. Also, Ralph experiences sadness and shame when he must confess to Keith that the red motorcycle is lost. In the crisis, Ralph had made a choice to save his life, but he was not able to save the motorcycle as well as himself. Because Keith understands that boys can get into trouble, he is also able to understand the trial that Ralph was involved in and extend forgiveness to Ralph in spite of the fact that the red motorcycle was a very prized possession.
Another important lesson that the story teaches is the value of family and friends. Ralph’s family, especially his mother, shows concerns for Ralph’s well-being, health, and safety. His mom encourages him to be safe just as the reader’s mothers and father do, so the reader is able to relate to the concerns of family and the need to obey rules. The Gridley’s son Keith becomes a friend to Ralph, a mouse so the lessons of how to treat one’s friends, sharing and caring for others are taught. Keith also shows that he understands the importance of parents when he advises Ralph to get permission for certain activities.
When Keith is sick one evening and no medicine is available, Ralph is presented with the opportunity to come to Keith’s aid. Despite the fact that his own life may be endangered, Ralph ventures out to find the medicine and bring it to Keith. The reader will be able to relate to the dilemma of helping another person and the decision to give of oneself without expecting a reward.
The story has adventure to hold attention for the reader, and the story line moves along a rapid pace. The author’s word choices provide enough details for the reader to picture the excitement without being overly wordy and descriptive. The black and white drawings in the book add appeal to the story as they illustrate the trials of a tiny mouse in large spaces and difficult circumstances.
I have fond memories of reading The Mouse and the Motorcycle, along with the other books in the series, Runaway Ralph and Ralph S. Mouse when I was younger. As a teacher, I read these books to my students. Of the three books, The Mouse and the Motorcycle is my favorite, but I thoroughly enjoy reading all of the books in the series. Beverly Cleary is a fantastic author for children’s books. My bookshelves hold most of the books that she has written, and my own children and my school students have enjoyed reading them. Girls and boys alike enjoy the adventures of Ralph. The Literature Link workbook for The Mouse and the Motorcycle will help your child recall the events of the story and encourage creative thinking and comprehension activities.