Tales Of White-footed Mouse Tickle Children, Author

August 11, 1991|By Ellie Baublitz | Ellie Baublitz,Staff writer

ELDERSBURG — She's living proof of what your teachers told you in creative writing class.

Write what you know.

That's how Edna L. Miller has written 11 popular Mousekin books, plus several other animal stories, for elementary school-age children.

"I write best when the story has a basis of truth," Miller said."It's usually something that would happen to Mousekin naturally."

But Miller admitted that "writing is difficult for me -- the art part is the most fun."

Miller, 71, began writing and illustrating herMousekin books in 1967 after watching a white-footed mouse playing in a discarded Halloween pumpkin.

"I thought what a fine house it would make for a white-footed mouse who forever discards one home and searches for another," she recalled.

That incident gave birth to "Mousekin's Golden House" and a new career for Miller.

The native of New York City developed a love for animals early on -- partly because she was unable to have a dog in her parents' apartment. Instead, she settled for two turtles, a white mouse, a rabbit and a small alligator.

As a youngster, she visited the zoo in Central Park, making sketches of her favorite animals. Later, she attended the Traphagen School of Fashion and Design in New York, where she studied fashion and textile design and illustration.

Miller spent 10 years as a sportswear designer for a leading manufacturer until her son was born. The family then moved to the country.

"I couldn't commute to the city," Miller said. "So I decided to stay home and do something in art.

"I started doing art for children's science books. Then one day myeditor said, 'Why don't you try to write something yourself? You're so good.' "

But every time she sat down at the typewriter, she froze at the thought of all the children who would read her book.

Then Mousekin came to her, and Miller's story has been one of success after success.

"Mousekin just came to me -- a little mouse to me is a mousekin -- and everybody has loved him since," Miller said.

In fact, "Mousekin's Golden House" was nominated for a Caldecott Award in children's literature, Miller added.

Mousekin's first adventure was followed by 10 more, with a couple of other stories about Miller's cat, a gray squirrel and a pack rat thrown in for good measure. A new Mousekin book is due out in January 1992. She also illustrates herbooks in delicate watercolors.

"The ideas just come to me,"

Miller said of her stories. "Many books are true.

" 'Patches Finds aNew Home' is about a tame cat in the wild that came to me. 'Scamper'is about a gray tree squirrel that kept getting into my bird feeder."

Once Miller gets an idea, it takes her about two months to writethe story in a "poetic prose" style. For her Mousekin books, she keeps a live, white-footed mouse in a cage on her desk.

"I like to see the different poses they get into," she said. "They

change everysecond."

Miller usually gets her mice from nearby Piney Run Park,she said, where she returns them after her book is written and illustrated.

"The mice have a wheel, water and all the food they want, so they're happy mice while they're with me," she said.

She has lived in Eldersburg since 1984, when she moved here to be near her son,daughter-in-law and two grandchildren.

Last month, Miller took time out from her new book to go to the Eldersburg branch for one of the Carroll County library's many children's programs.

In conjunction with the program, the library had ordered 100 copies of Mousekin books for parents to buy and have autographed for their children. It sold those and took additional orders after the program, children's librarian Mary Schwaab said.

About 75 youngsters listened

while Miller read "Mousekin's Frosted Friend" and described to them how her books get written, illustrated and finally published. She also answered the youngsters' questions.

Afterward, Miller autographed books, taking time to ask the child's name and signing the book with a comment relating to the title, such as "Happy Easter" in "Mousekin's Easter Basket."

"I'm more excited than my kids," said Susan Rhine of Sykesville. "I think this is just wonderful -- to bring the kids in andfor her to sign the books for them."

Rhine's children, Matthew, 6, and Megan, 8, know Mousekin well, and each had a book for Miller tosign.

"It was fun," Megan said. "It's neat meeting her."

The program was fun for Miller, too. When the first Mousekin book was published, she had no idea that the book would take off like it did or that there would be more, she said.

And Miller has never been rejected by her publisher.

"I've never got a pink slip, so I've never been discouraged -- yet," she said with a smile.

"I delight in the fan letters," she said. "I get letters from children all over the United States and Canada.

"When I think I'm not going to do any more, I'll get some letters saying how much they loved my books, then I say, 'All right, I'll do another one for you.' "

And she says she always answers all her fan letters.

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