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Early this month, I had a doctor’s appointment in Glen Ellyn, the suburb just to the east of Wheaton. The doctor I was seeing (for the first time) was an endocrinologist, to whom I’d been referred by our regular doctor, who’d noticed something on a scan I had several months ago. 

Our dear friend Sheila drove Wendy and me to Glen Ellyn and dropped me off at the medical building; they’d get a treat and find a congenial spot, and we’d rendezvous later at a coffee place. I arrived early for my appointment, and, much to my surprise, the doctor saw me as soon as I filled out the requisite forms. I liked her immediately. She went over the tests she wanted me to have at the office in Wheaton, and before I knew it I was outside and walking to downtown Glen Ellyn, much earlier than I had expected.

It was a very pleasant afternoon, and I enjoyed the walk. I turned right on Main St. and headed for my destination, Blackberry Market, a place associated in my mind with friends on the faculty of Wheaton College. Then my eye was caught by the blessed word “bookstore”: I was passing The Bookstore of Glen Ellyn, a small shop of the kind in which I have spent so many delightful hours over the decades. Among the titles displayed in the front widow was a children’s book with a very appealing cover: Mole Is Not Alone, by Maya Tatsukawa. Mother’s Day was coming soon.

You should know that Wendy and I both love children’s books, and we have a lot of them, including heavily used ones from our own kids’ childhood, newer books from over the years, battered yet treasured finds from sale shelves in the libraries of small midwestern towns, and more. I went inside the store to have a better look at Mole Is Not Alone; the woman in charge was a fan herself. It was such a delight to be in that space that I wanted to linger awhile. After all, I had time to kill.

So it was that I stumbled on the jigsaw puzzle section, where I zeroed in on a beautifully made one thousand-piece puzzle, “The World of King Arthur” by Adam Simpson. Wendy and I don’t often do one thousand-piecers these days, and this one was of the subtle variety as well. But I thought we might enjoy it nonetheless, and that it would go nicely with the book for Mother’s Day. As I was checking out, a younger woman who works in the store said hello; we had met several years ago, in connection with an “oral history interview” about Books & Culture for the archives of Wheaton College. A charmed day all round. I walked on to Blackberry Market, got an iced latte, and watched the passers-by while waiting for Wendy and Sheila.

Happily, Wendy loved Mole Is Not Alone (which we have read together several times; the puzzle turned out to be a good choice, too). Mole is invited to Rabbit’s Moon Harvest Party (yes, “Moon Harvest,” not “Harvest Moon”). All the animals will be there. Mole makes cream puffs and puts them in a handsomely wrapped package. He sets off for Rabbit’s place; he’s underground, of course, following his elaborate tunnels. But even as he is making his way, Mole vacillates. He’s terribly shy and self-conscious. He decides he won’t go after all; then he persists; then he has third thoughts, and so on; he broods about what the other animals will say. Meanwhile, aboveground, Skunk is going through the same business. Will he really be welcome?

Mole and Skunk meet outside Rabbit’s cheerful house, where the party is flourishing. They present their gifts to him at the door, explaining that they won’t be coming in. Rabbit is cordial, and Mole and Skunk happily descend to Skunk’s chambers, where they enjoy a companionable and much quieter time together over tea.

The illustrations are what give the book its special charm. But the message, such as it is, offers good sense. We’re not all party animals. On the other hand, we can contribute, in a modest way, to the communal celebration. If you have a gift-giving occasion coming soon, check out Mole Is Not Alone.

John Wilson is a contributing editor for The Englewood Review of Books and senior editor at The Marginalia Review of Books

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Image by Mick E. Talbotlicensed via Creative Commons. Image cropped.  

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