Once Upon a Twice



Clever, spooky nonsense adventure isn't for sensitive kids.

What parents need to know

Positive messages

The message here may be a bit confusing to young readers. Is it that the world, especially at night, can be a dangerous and scary place? Is it that we should listen to, and heed, the warnings of our elders? Should we abandon adventure and a search for beauty in favor of security? Or, should we take our chances, follow our dreams, and pass on our wisdom, if we are lucky enough live through our brushes with danger?

Violence & scariness

No graphic violence; however, the prey/predator kind of violence inherent in nature is implied. The owl hovers overhead, and the snake lurks in the pond waiting to devour the mouse. At one point, there is some question about whether or not he has succeeded.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that they should read this book through a couple of times before reading it aloud because the clever nonsense words can be stumbling blocks. Also, this may not be the story to read to sensitive kids who are already afraid of the night or upset about the notion of predators hunting prey. Kids who love wordplay, however, will love it.

What's the story?

Written in rhyme interwoven with nonsense words, this is the story of a young adventuresome mouse who learns the hard way just why he should listen to his elders.

Is it any good?


The tone is definitely spooky, the language playfully imaginative, and the illustrations rich, and beautifully magical. Quite a combination! With mice prowling through the rice field, predators lurking in the dark, and words of warning "whispercrooned," tension builds and is carried near to the end. Though this is not really a Halloween story, it definitely exudes that kind of scary suspense.

The joy of the story is in the wordplay. Rhyming lines are splattered with made-up words that are fun to say and, for the most part, clever in their meaning. The technique is slightly reminiscent of Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll or The BFG by Roald Dahl, and almost as enjoyable. Set in stanzas against artwork that is amazing in its expressive, uncluttered sensitivity, the story seems like an ancient one, and one readers will want to read time and time again.

Deep midnight blues, dark grey-greens, blacks of the wooded landscape, flecks of luminous fireflies, and a bright off-white moon provide a rich tapestry for this story. Predators are painted as dark creatures, silhouetted against the moon or nearly hidden in the reeds along the riverbank while light brown mice show up very well, almost as if a spotlight were following them, and making the point that they definitely can be seen...not a good thing. And, except for Jam, the mice have eyes that express their timidity and caution; his shine with adventure. 

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about nonsense words. What do you think "scoutaprowl" means? Or "inbetwiddle"? Or "goofiddles"? How do you know? 

  • Why did the elder mice want Jam to stay with the group and not venture out into the night alone?

  • What is the "dangershine" of the moon, and why did it make the night even more dangerous to the mice?

  • What lesson did Jam learn in the end? Why is he called the "Keeper-of-the-song"?

  • Do you think his adventure was worth the risk?

Book details

Author:Denise Doyen
Illustrator:Barry Moser
Genre:Picture Book
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Random House
Publication date:August 25, 2009
Number of pages:32
Publisher's recommended age(s):4 - 8
Read aloud:4
Read alone:8

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  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Parent of a 14 year old Written byjjazzlover August 31, 2009

Dramatic Imagery and Creative Word-Play in ant Award-Deserving Book

A special sense of fun and wonder pervades this outstanding new book. Denise Doyen's inventive story and language provides the fun (and some beguiling mischief and suspense), and illustrator Barry Moser's enchanted nighttime environment provides the wonder. The atmospheric setting is recognizable yet transcendent, and the word-and-picture imagery yields fresh verbal and visual landscapes for toddlers through grade-schoolers. This magical story about nighttime mouse adventures (and one mouse's particularly bold/foolhardy escapade), is one of those rare tales that adults and kids will genuinely enjoy. First-time author Doyen judiciously uses a literary device called portmanteau, creating a new word through the combination of two or more words that share meaning, sound, or both. The result is a poetic whole that communicates much more than its parts: Connotation, symbolism, and a kind of magic-speak that children spontaneously verbalize during language acquisition. Because of that linguistic realism, it's cute but neither cloying nor gimmicky. It's probably best to give an example. Here, in an early scene, a troop of cautiously crawling mice confronts young "Jam," a bold rascal of a mouse who blocks their path towards safety: "They runrunnel through the riddle-- Secret ruts hid inbetwiddle-- But one mousling jams the middle-- Whilst he goofiddles, others howl: Who's the holdup? What's the matter? Night's qui-etiquette is shattered! Eldermice race toward the chatter; Scattered line, slowed to a crawl. What do they find?" The mice have reason to fear unseen nocturnal dangers, for predators are wily and fast, with keen eyes and appetites. The following stanzas are set against a dark, reedy part of the marsh (punctuated by fireflies!), framed by a barely-seen snake at lower left, and a large bird of prey flying on the right: "Cold eyes of gold watch without wink For our ears and eyes of pink, From out the air, the field the brink, They slink up on a mouse at play. If those who swoop or them that pounce Glimmer just a whisk! An inch! An ounce! Jaw-claws will trounce a wayward mouse, Renounce jam foolery! Go home and stay." As much as "Once Upon a Twice" may remind some of "nonsense" poems (most famously, "Jabberwocky"), the preceding excerpt shows that the book's wonder and building suspense doesn't rely on neologisms. Doyen ignites our senses with her dramatic imagery and bold sentence structure even with "ordinary" words. They seem magical and ancient, as if we've discovered a parchment written by faeries. For every new clever word combination (for example, "riskarascal," "preycautions," "mouncelors," "wanderyonder") there are anchor words and phrases that make Jam's very narrow snake escape understandable for young audiences. Of course, credit also belongs to multiple award-winning illustrator Barry Moser, one of our best illustrators, and a national treasure. He portrays a darkened, dangerous habitat, but illuminates the foreground with just enough overhead and reflected light to focus our attention on each scene's most important elements. Moser imbues the animals with easily recognizable emotions, and he helps us follow the action by pointing their eyes towards the pages' focal points. It's a lush, magical place for youngsters, and reminds me of the very best set decorations on a Disneyland ride. This ranks among Moser's best work. Doyen is a master storyteller; her poetic images and fully developed narrative deliver sensational fun and excitement. It's one of the best kids' books I've read in many years; I predict both critical and popular acclaim. Doyen and Moser's rarely seen harmony of spirit and tone illuminate the extraordinary that often lies just beyond our reach. Note for Teachers and Parents: "Once upon a Twice" is appropriate for creative lessons in language, poetry, folklore, nature, and illustration, and the large format will work for group or individual reading. However, I see this new classic on a more personal level: An adult and a child creating their own special moments together while sharing the book. Over time (perhaps "once upon a twice") it becomes a treasured favorite, and a memory-making keeper.
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models
Teen, 14 years old Written bynazz4ever September 15, 2009
sounds good 2 me...
What other families should know
Educational value
Parent of a 4, 11, and 14 year old Written byLeMoon August 27, 2009

Great action adventure poem! Fun and worth the challenge.

The rhyme and rhythms in this book are outstanding -- truly reminiscent of the Jabberwocky. The story is essentially the Peter Rabbit story: "Listen to your elders and steer clear of lethal dangers. But of course the little headstrong critter strikes out into forbidden territory and gets the daylights (the moonlights in this case) scared out of him. But he learns a valuable lesson that he conveys to the next generation. Pics are beautiful. The nonsense words are delightful and poetic action thrilling and fun. Yes, it's a little sophisticated -- but I think kids, most kids, maybe even all kids can benefit from a exposure to some real children's literature every once in a while. This is the best of the best out there.
What other families should know
Educational value
Great role models


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