Parents' Guide to

Once Upon a Twice

By Patricia Tauzer, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 6+

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

Once Upon a Twice Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this book.

Community Reviews

age 6+

Based on 2 parent reviews

age 6+

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.
age 5+

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.

Is It Any Good?

Our review:
Parents say (2 ):
Kids say (1 ):

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. 

Book Details

Did we miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate