Basil of Baker Street: The Great Mouse Detective, Book 1

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
Basil of Baker Street: The Great Mouse Detective, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Classic, cute series about Sherlock-like mouse sleuth.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Many little kids will get their first introduction to Sherlock Holmes from the Great Mouse Detective tales, as the legendary sleuth inspires the mice living in his basement. They'll also pick up a bit of science as Basil, following his mentor's lead, analyzes soil samples and the like to solve the case. He also consults atlases, travel guides, and other references. Older readers already familiar with the Holmes stories (and, perhaps, reading this aloud for the little ones) will get a kick out of the appearance of assorted characters and story elements. There's an old-fashioned style to the narrative, along with terms such as "ne'er-do-well" that may require a bit of explanation for today's young readers.

Positive Messages

Use your brain to solve problems and help others; treat others with kindness. Be brave and steadfast, especially when dealing with bad guys. Also, the experience of the kidnapped twins highlights the importance of not going off with strangers.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The great Basil may be smarter than the average mouse, but he's a humble, hardworking student of the master detective -- and uses his skills for the benefit of his fellow mice. His loyal sidekick Dr. Dawson, like Dr. Watson in the Holmes tales, is brave and helpful (and, like Watson, hilariously dim from time to time). The parents of the abducted twins are devoted, loving, and beside themselves with anxiety. There are several villainous characters -- and an unfortunate mouse forced to do their bidding because they threaten his family, but he tries to be kind anyway.

Violence & Scariness

The two detectives are briefly captured and held prisoner by the villains. The story hinges on the kidnapping of little mouse twins Agatha and Angela, and even though no real harm comes to anyone, the whole concept may be too upsetting for sensitive kids.

"'It's you who'll be caught,' said Basil sternly. 'And you'll pay for your crimes -- I'll see to it!'

"'Not a chance, you snoop! You'll be too busy playin' tag with the fishes at the bottom of the ocean!'"

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Basil of Baker Street, first published in 1958, is the opening volume in Eve Titus' clever series that went on to inspire a well-loved 1986 movie. Now, complete with its charming original illustrations by Paul Galdone, it's out  in a new edition for a new generation of readers, with the other installments soon to follow. It's a fun introduction to detective stories and the Sherlock Holmes tales, as it follows the efforts of mouse detective Basil to find two kidnapped little girls and bring the evildoers to justice; there are scary moments, including the kidnapping of the girls and the imprisonment of the brave detectives by the villains, but no real harm comes to anyone, and goodness prevails. The story's set in 1885 London, so the old-fashioned language and dialect may be a challenge for some modern kids.

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What's the story?

It's 1885 in London, and all is not well in Holmestead, the large, comfortable mouse village in the basement at 221B Baker Street, residence of Sherlock Holmes. That's where BASIL OF BAKER STREET, THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE dwells with his good-hearted colleague, Dr. Dawson, spending many an educational evening beneath the floorboards listening to Holmes discuss his cases. Now, Holmestead is in a panic because little mouse twins Angela and Agatha -- who didn't exactly heed their mama's wise words about not running off with strangers -- have been kidnapped, and everyone turns to Basil to get the girls home.

Is it any good?

First published in the 1950s, Eve Titus' clever tale of a Sherlock Holmes-inspired, crime-stopping mouse delighted generations of readers, inspired a movie, and returns to delight fans old and new. It's a good introduction to the concept of detectives and crime-solving, with many references to the original Holmes stories. Some scary moments may be too much for sensitive youngsters, especially the fact that two little girls are kidnapped by evil mice known as the Terrible Three, but no real harm comes to anyone.

Victorian-era narrative and lots of dialect offer entertaining read-aloud opportunities. Illustrator Paul Galdone's endearing images of Victorian mice add to the fun.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about detective stories. Why do you think they're popular? Do you think they're scary, or do you have fun solving the problems?

  • Sometimes, as in this story, a good person does bad things because someone's threatening him or his loved ones. If somebody was trying to make you do something like that, what would you do?

  • How do you think London is different today from how it was at the time of the story?

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