Ownership is one of childhood’s most profound experiences. Ownership of treasures found, gifts, emotions, and relationships all contribute to a growing sense of self and a sense of interconnectedness.
Jose Saramago*, Portugese novelist, anarcho-communist and political agitator, wrote “Liking is probably the best form of ownership, and ownership is probably the worst form of liking.”
That strikes a familiar chord when thinking about children and their response to ownership which, very often, takes the form of soul-connection rather than legal rights. A child might take ownership of a name, a friend, or even a TV show, declaring that since they like that show no-one else can. Their ’ownership’ has nothing to do with possession and everything to do with intensity of feeling.
It is the ‘liking’ that creates ownership rather than ownership leading to liking. (A complex but thought provoking way of considering adult ownership too, I think.)
In this touching and gentle book, a child shares the story of taking a dog named Mouse for a walk. It’s an old dog – 'He’s old and fat with ears as thin as pancakes. His walk is a kind of waddle …'.
The child is understanding, kind and patient. Mouse is slow, and the effects of age mean that he doesn’t chase balls or fetch sticks.
Rather, he ‘stops at lampposts and fences and sniffs for a long time', takes both meatballs in one bite, and ‘opens his mouth so you can see all his teeth’.
It’s not clear until the end of the book that the child is not the legal owner of the dog—and that their relationship is not based on the duties and rights of legal ownership.
Instead, the friendship between Mouse and the child is borne of a soul-connection that leads to a kind of mutual ownership.
This tender book beautifully values the kind of ownership that stems from love, respect and shared experiences. It also gently nudges us to notice and welcome opportunities to practice at least these four ideals:
The child's awareness of Mouse and his needs is gentle and serene. As they walk, the child waits and takes the time for Mouse to do things at his own pace. There is no concern about the pace of others, instead: 'We walk as slowly as we can. All others go past us. We are always the slowest'.
The child brings lunch and snacks and shares with Mouse. 'I have two meatballs in my pocket for us to eat. I hold them out and he takes them both in one bite'.
The child’s generosity is evident in sharing and in loving Mouse without demanding ownership. At the very end the child says, with a sweet and guileless purity, 'I wish Mouse was mine'. There’s beauty in that simple statement—a wish for an even stronger connection that is also accepting and grateful for the connection that does exist.
The unhurried and uncomplicated love between Mouse and the child is echoed in the pace of their walk ('Step, pause. Step, pause.'), and the effortlessness of their activities ('We sit there on the grass and eat our picnic. … while I look carefully at a particular cloud.').
The beauty of the day lies in its slowness rather than its highlights.
The child’s love for Mouse is about Mouse as he is, not as he once was. There’s no yearning for more active days, no wishing for a younger, more lively dog, no sighing remembrances of times past. Instead the child is fully immersed in Mouse as he is now, and completely in love with him.
There’s an endearing naïveté to the pictures. They show a world that is entirely that of the child—full of people with complex lives, but clearly centred on the child and Mouse.
It’s a world that children reading the book will understand, even if their own life circumstances are very different. This is a book that invites peaceful reflection and confirms a child’s place and value in the community. A wonderful way to end a day.
Book Depository has free postage anywhere in the world and great pricing, but Amazon might be cheaper for North American readers.
MY DOG MOUSE
by Eva Lindstrom – Gecko Press, 2017
ages 2 to 8 years / picture books + emotional resilience, heartwarmers
*Jose Saramago's novel The Elephant’s Journey is in my TBR pile—if you’ve read it or any of this other novels I’d love to hear what you thought.