The author evokes a powerful empathy for his protagonist, which makes the eventual resolution, though a bit contrived, all the sweeter.
The story of the city mouse and the country mouse dates all the way back to Aesop, and is apparently one of those archetypes that crosses cultures and continents. This particular variation takes place in modern Malawi, a tiny country in southeastern Africa of which few American child readers will have heard, and where the difference between city and country is extreme. Author Jan Michael's first book to be published in America thus may serve as an introduction for many readers to a distant and exotic place that is both like and unlike their own homes and experiences.
Though some of the cultural specifics will be unfamiliar -- Sam is, for instance, expected to share everything he owns with his cousins, which will surely horrify American children who will consider it grossly unfair -- the feelings he experiences are universal. His misery and despair at his seeming rejection, after losing not only his parents, but also his home, school, friends, and everything he knows and understands in the world, will touch even cynical hearts.
From the Book:
"I mean" -- Sam was puzzled -- "where should I put my clothes?"
Now it was her turn not to understand. "Put them?"
"Well, where do you put yours?"
Enock pointed at the wall. Nails were driven into it, and from them dripped a small assortment of trousers and shirts and cloths. "Ezza and I share a nail."