Publication Date: May 13, 2014
Fans of the I, Freddy series and Charlotte’s Web will be won over by this charming, delightfully told and illustrated story of a petshop misfit — a hairless guinea pig with a penchant for Shakespeare.
Millhouse is a faint-hearted, hairless guinea pig. A great lover of all things theatrical, most especially the work of William Shakespeare, Milly longs for the limelight and someone to love. However, after the death of his beloved owner, the great actor Sir Roderick Lord Kingswagger, Millhouse is abandoned to a neglected and dusty pet shop filled with other rodents — some rude, some odd, some cute and some downright frightening. Finding himself a reviled outcast and a target of the nasty Pepper Brown ferret, Millhouse sets about trying to find a way back to the theater and a happy home, and in doing so experiences more drama than he could ever have imagined.
Natale Ghent’s Millhouse will be a hit with young readers who love a good animal tale. Ghent builds a realistic society within Millhouse’s pet shop, one with a hierarchy and cliques. Animals aren’t just all cuteness and cuddles in this book; they’re real and a little bit dark. This predatory aspect will ring true to young readers who have witnessed animal interactions in the real world and will resonate with readers who have experienced the type of bullying that Millhouse does.
Notably, a good 45% of the book focuses on Millhouse’s being mocked, particularly by the other guinea pigs (he doesn’t look like them), and on his struggle with feeling like a misfit. Millhouse ruminates on his life, attempts to cheer himself up by practicing theatre scenes, and dreams about getting out of the pet shop. The real adventures, however, only start halfway through the book, when Millhouse finally breaks out of his own mind—his first real step to breaking out of his cage.
His adventures, too, are a little bit frightening. There’s a ferret who’s out to eat him from page one, but Millhouse encounters various other dangers as he finally takes a chance at returning to his beloved theatre. I stress, again, that this book is dark, and young readers may respond to the psychological meanness and the physical danger that Millhouse encounters in various ways. I don’t think the story is necessarily “charming,” as the Goodreads page claims, but I do think it is compelling and real—which is not always something one expects to find in a children’s book with adorable talking animals. (Side note: The illustrations are charming and cute!)
Thematically, the book is really about second chances—for Millhouse, for the animals that tease him, even for the humans who run the pet shop. In spite of some mean dialogue and dark scenes, the message of the book is very positive and uplifting, and the ending is truly a happy one for Millhouse and some new friends.
One flaw: Millhouse’s love for Shakespeare hooked my attention and prompted me to request an e-galley of the book from Netgalley. There are great quotes from Shakespeare’s work, and other plays, scattered throughout the book that will have drama fans gleefully clapping every chapter. However, I think these allusions will probably be over the heads of the target audience (I mean, I was precocious, but I didn’t read Shakespeare at the age of ten). These quotes must just be little treats for any parents reading along.
Millhouse is a great pick for any child who loves animal stories and a touch of drama. It will capture reader’s imaginations and their hearts as it invites them to treat everyone they meet with kindness and dares them to stay brave in the face of adversity and pursue their dreams.