Need a House, Call Ms. Mouse
by Maria Popova
“Henrietta is a world famous home decorator, which means she is — an artist, a designer, a dreamer, a builder, a creator, all that and more, too.”
As a lover of exquisite vintage children’s books, especially ones with irreverent messages that encourage creative endeavors and those empowering little girls to transcend confining social expectations, my heart leapt at the 1981 gem Need A House? Call Ms. Mouse (public library) — a lovely story aiming to awaken in kids a passion for architecture, starring a female protagonist. Written by George Mendoza, it features vibrant illustrations by Doris Susan Smith that fall somewhere between Maurice Sendak and the Provensens.
The story begins with an infinitely heartening “job description”:
Henrietta is a world famous home decorator, which means she is — an artist, a designer, a dreamer, a builder, a creator, all that and more, too.
But with great fame comes great responsibilities: Henrietta gets all kinds of requests, requiring increasing degrees of creative vision and architectural complexity — a spaceship-inspired treehouse for Squirrel (because what’s more mid-century-modern than that?), an elaborate Atlantis-like underwater residence for Trout, a modernist LA beach house for Lizard, even an intricate pear interior for Worm.
The twist, however, is that despite her architectural accomplishments, Henrietta herself — like Thoreau, whose famous philosophy of simple living inspired another lovely children’s book — prefers the simple life:
Why a treasure like Need A House? Call Ms. Mouse would perish in the mausoleum of out-of-print books is beyond me — used copies, while findable, cost a fortune. Thankfully, that’s just another reason to love public libraries.