I'm not much of a judge of where the dividing line is between children's books and YA books, but I'm pretty sure that The Stratford Adventure of Adrian and Tiddlywinks (2012) falls on the children's side of it. Being a sucker for theatre-related fantasy novels, especially those set at the Stratford (Ont.) Shakespeare Festival, I bought it anyway.
Being a kiddie tale, it wasn't quite as an attractive to an adult reader like me as the creepy Come Like Shadows (also set in Stratford), the similar King of Shadows, or the lovely Eyes Like Stars. The plot is fairly thin: a boy moves from England to Stratford, Ontario, in the 1960s, early in the Festival's existence, in the wake of his actor father's taking a role there. He is accompanied, unwittingly, by a mouse who enjoys declaiming Shakespere in his model theatre and decides to stow away with the cargo. Boy and mouse both want to be actors. Adrian's father is against it, feeling he does not have the personality for an acting career. The other mice just find Tiddlywinks eccentric.
Once they get to Stratford, Adrian befriends a girl who is one of the Festival apprentices, and with her support, becomes an apprentice actor himself, playing one of the princes in Richard III. Tiddlywinks befriends a mouse named Hotspur and is introduced to an all-mouse drama group that lives in the Festival Theatre and performs their own versions of Shakespeare plays. Adrian's father still resists. The drama-club mice are not 100% accepting of the English Tiddlywinks. But I'd classify the obstacles to mutual theatrical success as token, and soon there are happy endings all around.
There are no deep messages in the tale, and things are resolved far too easily for there to be any real suspense. What fascinated me about it was that the author, John Sullivan Hayes, was one of the original company actors in the first season of the Festival (1953) and participated in it in various ways until his death in 1993. (The book is a posthumous publication.) So there are some interesting tidbits about life backstage and the training of the apprentices in the Festival's early years as well as a tour through the Festival Theatre's "underworld" that made me wonder if it's still possible to take it. And a few of the characters have names that any Stratford aficionado will recognize: the cameo appearance by bearded designer Desmond made me grin, as did having a mouse costume designer named Tanya.
The interior illustrations are unfinished sketches by Hayes himself, and a letter from him to his daughter at the end of the book gives amusing background on his efforts to draw anthropomorphic mice:
As for drawing mice from the front... this is much harder, as this bespectacled fellow illustrates. I have put a bottle of scotch because he looks so alcoholic.
That refers to an illustration on page 23, where Tiddlywinks is eating a piece of cheese and there is indeed an unidentified bottle next to him.
I don't really recommend this book for adults unless they are really passionate about the Stratford Festival, but I'm sure it would be great for children of some age or other. Chapter book, 132 pages, about 275 words per page, prose straightforward to the point of being a little simplistic, and minimal emotional depth. Maybe one of my parenting friends can advise me on the right age group?Read for yourself: