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The Little Gentleman by Philippa Pearce

The Little Gentleman

by Philippa Pearce

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With an old-fashioned flavor, and shades of [a:Kate DiCamillo|13663|Kate DiCamillo|http://photo.goodreads.com/authors/1301424003p2/13663.jpg], this is a rich fable for all ages. I especially liked the bit where Bet realizes just how 'other' moles are to humans, and vice versa. ( )
  Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Jun 6, 2016 |
Interesting book that uses and old legend about William III of England as its basis. The little Gentleman is a talking immortal mole. A fun read. ( )
  bridgetrwilson | Mar 27, 2013 |
Richie's Picks: THE LITTLE GENTLEMAN by Philippa Pearce, illustrated by Tom Pohrt, HarperCollins/Greenwillow, September 2004, ISBN: 0-06-073160-5, ISBN Library: 0-06-073161-3

The mole I've known the longest is the funky-looking critter who makes a very brief appearance in Shel Silverstein's A GIRAFFE AND A HALF. The mole whose story has meant the most to me is the hopeful and persistent character in David McPhail's MOLE MUSIC. Then there is that most gracious host to tired little bunnies in the Barbara Cooney-illustrated SEVEN LITTLE RABBITS. (The music cassette accompanying that book is forever imprinted on my brain after my having played it as part of several thousand naptimes during my former preschool career.)

There is, in fact, a whole delightful assortment of moles in children's literature. But I'm seeing the mole (Condylura cristata) in a whole new light after being enchanted by the subterranean-dwelling "little gentleman in black velvet" who is at the center of Philippa Pearce's latest book.

"...Mole he is burrowing
his way to the sunlight
He knows there's someone there so strong..."
--Moody Blues, "Watching and Waiting"

Bet lives with her grandparents. Her grandmother tends to Mr. Franklin and to Mr. Franklin's home, and Bet frequently accompanies her grandmother there when not at school. When Mr. Franklin becomes indisposed--having fallen from a ladder and broken his leg--he enlists Bet to sit at the log out on the riverbank by herself and read aloud. Thus the girl comes to meet that most unique mole who is not only well-spoken in the King's English, but is also inadvertently responsible for a pivotal incident in the annals of the British monarchy and, thereby, the subject of a well-known historic toast.

But despite all of that, he is still a most down-to-earth fellow:

"The mole spoke as if indeed in mid-flow of neighborly chat:'...And you probably have little idea of how delicious--how scrumptious--they are when eaten fresh. Of course, I have my worm larder--' He corrected himself. 'Worm larders, well stocked, but the prey pursued, or promptly pounced upon, and eaten fresh--as I've said--Ah! the earthworm, there's nothing like it! You can have your wireworms and your leatherjackets and as many ground beetles as you like to eat--snap! crackle! crunch! You can have them all! Even the toothsome slug has nothing to equal the near liquefaction of worm meat as I pass its length through my fingers sieving out the earth granules from its incessant feeding. Or alternatively tear it to eat it at once in great guzzling, gulping chunks.' "

And as surely as Bet comes to learn the twists and turns that mark the mole's jawdropping personal tale of history, sorcery, and happenstance, readers come to realize that the story of Bet and the mole is an intense tale of friendship and selflessness and choices. And while this is a book that is quite accessible to third and fourth graders, the questions THE LITTLE GENTLEMAN poses, in regard to what one would do for a friend, makes this story also fit in quite nicely alongside any number of YAs that probe similar ground, albeit in a more edgy and mature fashion.

" 'Now,' said Bet with satisfaction, 'we're going to go the whole hog.'
" 'More accurately,' said the mole, 'the whole mole!' "

Philippa Pearce, skillfully digging into British historic trivia, has mined a rich vein with THE LITTLE GENTLEMAN. The book arrived here just in the nick of time--it becomes my read aloud for our family vacation this coming week--and it is sure to be received with similar enthusiasm by all those who somewhere, down deep, are "watching and waiting for a friend to play with."

Richie Partington
BudNotBuddy@aol.com ( )
  richiespicks | May 24, 2009 |
The little gentleman in black velvet is not only the main character in this children's fantasy from the pen of the accomplished and beloved author Philippa Pearce he was also a player of some significance in the Jacobite rebellion and the efforts to restore King James VII of Scotland and II of England and Ireland to the throne. Oh, and he also happens to be a mole...a little nearly blind furry guy from the subterranean realm...yes, that kind of mole.

Philippa Pearce is a children's author with several awards to her credit and is probably best known for her first book Minnow on the Say published in 1955 and her still popular Tom's Midnight Garden. She is known for her empathetic characterizations and original fantasy concepts. Her tales are engaging and thoughtful and also make for exciting and fun-filled page-turners for children in the 7-12 year old age group. The Little Gentleman is her first offering in twenty years and Ms. Pearce has not skipped a beat with her story-telling skill.

Having been deposed from the throne in 1688 and replaced by his daughter Mary's husband, William of Orange, King James spent the next 60 years trying to recover his position and power as king. His supporters, the Jacobites, were elated in 1702 when King William's horse stumbled over a molehill, throwing the king and killing him. Afterward they took up the practice of toasting the mole and referring to him as "the little gentleman in black velvet".

The mole's story, a fantasy that proceeds from the point of historical fact that we know about the true mole incident, took me a couple of hours to read and will engage children for perhaps a day or two detailing what happened where the unfortunate King William, left off, shall we say.

In modern day England young Bet accompanies her grandmother as she provides housekeeping assistance for Mr. Franklin, an elderly man who is laid up with a broken leg following a fall from a ladder. One day Mr. Franklin makes a peculiar request of Bet, asking that she take a rather dull book on the subject of earthworms out to the meadow adjacent to the cottage, seat herself on a large fallen log and read aloud from it. He does not explain why he wants this done but she obliges. Much to her surprise a mole emerges from a hole beneath the log and speaks to her!

A long and interesting relationship develops between Bet and the mole. He reveals that he was enchanted on two separate occasions by Scottish witches, the first enchantment ensuing immediately after King William's untimely death when the Jacobites tried delivering him to James as a gift and he nearly died in the saddle-bag in which he was being transported. A charm was worked and the poor mole was restored to life but at the cruel price of that life being "extended into a future of no fixed duration, everlasting life." Much later, an accident of fate gives the mole the powers of memory, reason and human conversation.

Three hundred years have brought the mole to England in his quest for removing the witchcraft that ensnares him. In this tale in addition to interesting sprinkles of historical reference and surprisingly fascinating tidbits about moles, we enjoy a wonderful friendship that exists between Bet and the little gentleman. We experience their many adventures as they try to find a way to restore the mole to his true mole nature, including their discovery of a way to shrink Bet to mole size allowing her free access to the chthonic domain of the mole. A side plot has to do with Bet's anxiety about reuniting with her mother who abandoned her to the care of her grandmother when she was an infant.

The theme of trust and true unselfish friendship runs throughout the book and lends it the depth that makes it a cut above so many books of the genre. The characters are well drawn and realized, no small feat in this highly unusual relationship. Pearce's style of writing does not talk down to children and uses some challenging vocabulary but it has the youthful heart of adventure and magic that will delight young readers.

The book is sparsely but effectively illustrated with pen and ink line drawings by the talented Tom Pohrt of New York Times best seller Crow and Weasel fame.

This book is suitable for children in the intended age group to read for themselves but it is also an excellent book for adults to read aloud to children because its multi-layered storyline offers many opportunities for conversation and discussion while the pacing of its entertaining and exciting plot holds the attention of young listeners.

I like this book very much because it not only provides plenty of action and food for the imagination but it offers thought-provoking concepts that can enrich a child's understanding of themselves and their feelings and conduct as they journey through the growing up process. It is fun and fantastical but provides another level for the child who is ready for or in need of more depth in the reading experience. I can highly recommend it. ( )
  Treeseed | Mar 4, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0060731605, Hardcover)

When Bet is first asked to go into the meadow and read a passage aloud from a book - apparently to no-one - she wonders why. But then she realises that her audience is a little mole, who listens attentively. This isn't just any mole. This mole can speak, he is more than 300 years old and he has an amazing tale to tell. So begins an extraordinary friendship between a lonely little girl and The Little Gentleman in Black Velvet.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:15 -0400)

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A young girl's dull life is transformed when she meets and befriends an extraordinary talking mole that likes to be read to and tell of his own past exploits throughout the centuries.

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