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One book, one mouse, one party

(ran East edition)

It was a party of great proportions complete with mouse ear making, mouse face painting, a mouse scavenger hunt and mouse maze. There were student poetry readings, a Family Feud meets Jeopardy! type book battle and the performing of a song written by language arts teacher Steven Judge to the theme from Gilligan's Island. The big band jazz band also entertained while folks, big and small, dined on soup and bread. Then, of course, there was cake.

It might have seemed a lot of fuss to make over a mouse _ especially one that doesn't reside in a theme park.

This mouse, an unlikely hero named Despereaux Tilling who has a penchant for soup, stories and a princess called Pea, actually lives in the pages of a Newberry Award-winning book written by Kate DiCamillo, called The Tale of Despereaux.

For the past month, Despereaux and his fellow cast of characters have captured the rapt attention of the children, teachers and parents at Pine View Middle School.

"It was very easy flowing," said sixth-grader Sarah Collins. "It was the best book I ever read."

"I loved it. It was a great book _ great for all ages," said principal Dave Estabrook.

"It's a real modern classic," said Sharyn Brookins, who teaches French and reading. "It opened up so much discussion because there are so many underlying themes _ good verses evil _ dark versus light," said Brookins, who like other teachers, integrated the book into her classroom curriculum.

Of course there were some skeptical readers. This is middle school and the book, after all, is a fairy tale.

"At first I didn't think I was going to like it - I mean it was about a mouse," said eighth-grader Jessica Brinson. "But it was great."

"I wouldn't choose it on my own," said eighth-grader Jennifer Sproehnle, as she painted mouse whiskers on the face of 2-year-old Sydney Cooper. "But actually it was a very good."

The enthusiastic responses from both kids and adults lightened the hearts of reading specialists Theresa Hewitt and Martha Winterroth who first happened upon the book last spring and promoted the idea of the "One Book _ One Community" schoolwide event.

That was also a cause for celebration.

And celebrate they did Thursday night at a special Family Night culminating the "One Book _ One Community event."

Estabrook estimated that "well over 200, maybe close to 300," attended; a terrific showing for an evening event.

"What a great way to promote reading and great literature and a great way to start off the school year," he said.

"This is really nice. You can tell a lot of people put a lot of effort into this," said Laurann Flynn, 43, who competed in the family book battle along with her son, John, 11, and her sister, Marybeth Buccinna, 53. "It encourages everyone to be involved."

Involved, it seems, at school and at home.

"It was a real adventure," said John, who's enthusiasm for the book often rubbed off on his mother and aunt.

"He'd read it at school and get home and want to read more. We only had one copy so we ended up reading it together a lot," Mrs. Flynn said. "We just couldn't wait to get to the next part."

Kelly Hutson, 4, eats her soup during Family Night at Pine View Middle School on Thursday. Kelly's older brother is in the sixth grade at the school. Many of the children dressed as mice to look like Despereaux Tilling, a character in The Tale of Despereaux, the "One Book _ One Community" selection featured at the event.

Brittany Lahey, 11, works with her friends Shanta McDonald, 11, center, and her sister, Shameka Jones, 12, as they participate in the family book battle during Family Night at Pine View Middle School. Lahey and McDonald are sixth-graders at Pine View and Jones is a seventh-grader.