On September 27, 2022, Disney Hyperion will release “Loud Mouse,” a children’s book by teacher and writer Cara Mentzel and her Tony Award-winning sister. Idina Menzel.
The 48-page picture book is about a little mouse finding her big voice. Dee likes to sing. She sings during her morning yoga. She even sings while practicing her math facts. She usually sings to herself. But when her teacher asks everyone to share something with the class, Dee knows exactly what to bring: a song. And as Dee sings la, la, la, la, HIGHLY in front of her class for the first time, something amazing happens…
Complete with beautiful illustrations and filled with humor and heart, Loud Mouse is a clever tale about learning that sometimes your best self is big, brave and yes, strong.
Below. read our exclusive interview with Idina Menzel and Cara Mentzel about this heartwarming new story.
You are both mothers, and Cara has been a teacher for many years. How did these roles shape the direction of your screenplay?
Character: We considered what social and emotional messages we wanted to send to children. We thought this book might be a good starting point for meaningful conversations about a number of things, including how we occupy space in the world and how we deal with the ramifications of being seen. and heard, although we like to be seen and heard, it is difficult because it makes us vulnerable. We wondered how we developed our identity and who we turned to for support and truth in this process. These are the themes that I know as a teacher and mother and that I would appreciate having a text to consult to support me in this type of learning.
Idina: As moms, we wanted to write a book that we would love to read with our kids first and foremost, so there are different aspects of our book that we could identify with different writers and illustrators that we like. As collaborators, for me, there’s no one I’d rather do this with than my sister because of her perspective as a teacher and mother and friend, someone who knows me better than anyone – but especially the educational aspect. Cara understands language, she is a literacy expert, understanding language for all ages with a mastery of how to use metaphor in a way that would be a fun discovery for some children with their parents. This allowed us to write a book that unfolds as a child develops and grows and goes through different stages of their life. It was important to us.
Several “adult” words are emboldened such as STRONG, SYMBOLIZED, HUGE, SPECTACULAR, FORTISSIMO. Your book is aimed at children aged 3 to 5, from kindergarten to first grade. Was your intention to spark an interest in learning new complicated words?
Character: Absolutely, that was the intention. I wanted to create a love for the language. Children may be afraid of big words, but when they are read to them, they can just love them and not be afraid and learn to understand.
Each teacher in this book has a characteristic children can identify with, Miss Pink’s penchant for big words, Principal Hummingbird’s penchant for short words, and music teacher Mr. Dimple’s penchant for Italian words. Was there an intention to teach something specific about the recognition of personalities or characteristic traits?
Character: Intention was part of character building. Like picking a hummingbird that’s very fast as a main because I think of my main running down the halls, very fast.
LOUD MOUSE beautifully conveys the physical and emotional characterizations of the two of you. “The mere feeling of the air in her lungs and her voice in the world made her happy”, from the outset lends Idina your love of singing, but your reluctance to use such a dynamic gift, and Cara your love for your sister and encourage her to be herself and use this gift. Give me an example of how this worked out in real life for you.
Idina: There are a lot of parallels there. The first parallel that I like the most is the sisterhood, loyalty and protection of the sisters – it’s very truthful and honest for us. We feel very protective of each other. I sometimes have the impression that our roles are exchanged. I’m older but Cara has often been the older soul to me. She was married and had children before me, so some life experiences came to her first and I turned to her for advice. So I think Dee in our story feels like the younger sister in this book because Cara Lee, the actual younger sister, has the best advice. I felt deep inside that I had something special and a gift to share. I felt that at a very young age. But it was a scary feeling for me. I was very embarrassed. I also didn’t want to push others away from me. I felt that when I shared my voice, it alienated other children or invited scrutiny. My sister was always the one who looked up to me and supported me. It affected Cara and her development and how she found her path in life and her own identity. We’ll go into that more in our sequel book.
There are layers to this book, and I guess at first glance I want people to see the love of this little mouse singing. I feel like the illustrator was able to project the euphoria and joy I get when I sing and how good it feels. But what happens to us when things feel good – other things in life make feeling uncomfortable and it’s complicated to share those feelings. There are so many parallels with us in the book. When I called Cara and shared my inspiration for a book idea, she was the one who narrowed it down and put it into the first draft. It was very emotional for me to read it the first time because she had me, and because I had someone in the world like my sister who understood me. That in itself is a gift.
Is the address on the mailbox a special place? 137 Woodlake Drive
Both: Yes that’s where we grew up! Woodlake Drive looked like a good address for a mouse.
The humor is very clever in this book. Who thought of Dee erasing a classmate’s drawing with her butt when she got so fat while singing? What does this tell the reader?
Idina: It’s Cara’s humor!
Character: It’s just something I could see happening in the classroom!
You both dedicated the Loud Mouse to your children. Can you share a favorite remember with Avery, Jake and Walker?
Character: Well, it happened the other day where we had a family text with the grandparents, Avery, Jake and my husband and I about what outfit Avery should wear to a wedding. It’s not one to dress up, so it’s one of my favorite memories.
Idina: Walker likes to scroll through my photos so I always think, what’s he going to find? Walker loved dinosaurs, so I thought I had a paleontologist on hand, but then he developed a passion for garbage trucks. There aren’t enough children’s books about garbage trucks. But my favorite memory with Walker is that I took him on tour with me and when we went to other countries and different time zones it was horrible for me because I was trying to maintain a good voice of singing and being ready to play but I would be up all night with him because he was in so many different time zones. Once in Japan, we were watching videos in the middle of the night. His circadian rhythm was off, it was very late, and I was delirious, and he was acting out scenes and doing summer jumps on my bed.
La LA LOUD is mentioned several times regarding Dee’s singing. Are you hinting at a possible up-and-coming song about LOUD MOUSE?
Idina: Yes! I couldn’t hold myself back. I felt like I wanted to write a theme song for the book. Cara is a little worried that it will be a little intimidating for non-singing parents who will feel compelled to sing like me but it’s just to inspire. Anyone can sing the chorus however they like.
BWW I think you opened that door with “Let It Go”. I’ve heard so many horrible versions of this song, but we all sing it with our hearts! My favorite line is “Do you think a star can choose not to shine?” What’s your favorite LOUD MOUSE line?
Idina: It’s also mine.
Character: I like that one too and also, “You were always big and loud with me”.
Idina: I also like “Dee climbed into his mother’s arms grateful she would still be able to do it”. Because it all depends on how we occupy the space. I think when my 13 year old falls asleep a bit close to me, I kind of move him towards my knees, kinda like a baby but he’s sleeping soundly so he doesn’t know, ’cause he’d be mortified. It’s like, how big do they have to get before they say we’re not doing this anymore? And I really love the references Cara had at the waist and all the perspectives like when Dee sings and walks by the anthill and then the buttercups then the redwoods and then when she gets home she’s sad because the day isn’t getting any better. It didn’t turn out the way she planned. It’s her take on all these different things. There’s so much poetry in what she’s written that I’m proud of this book.
What do you want children to take away from your story?
Idina: They can take a lot out of it – you need to be the bigger, better, bolder version of yourself, whatever that means to you, because it’s the right thing to do. It’s your job as a human being to embrace what you love and do it. We do the world a disservice when we hide our gifts.
The book is so beautifully illustrated. I like to color. Can we anticipate a coloring book version?
Character: We have a downloadable version and you can download pictures and color them. I produced a guide to accompany lessons for teachers and a theater scenario for music readers. There are additional documents you can download.
Can we look forward to a series of books about the upcoming adventures of Dee and Cara Lee?
Both: The sequel will explore the adventures of little sister Cara Lee.
Idina, we know you have a children’s camp. How can our readers support A BroaderWay?
Idina: Yes – www.abroaderway.org is for young women, we call them future leaders, for ages 12 and up and it’s a year-round program that sends these young women camping around the country, take them out of the city and let the arts form and become part of their lives and amplify their own voice. It’s a cyclical program that lasts 4 years and once they’ve gone through it, they come back and become counsellors. We’ve been around long enough now that some of our young female freshmen sit on our board.