What if the Tooth Fairy isn’t real? Or what if she’s … a mouse? In The Amazing and True Story of Tooth Mouse Pérez, Spanish author Ana Cristina Herreros teams up with translator Sara Lissa Paulson and illustrator Violeta Lópiz on a whimsical journey to show how people in different countries collect baby teeth, and how the practice has evolved over the years. As it turns out, in Spain, it’s not a fairy who collects the teeth, it’s Tooth Mouse Pérez. And back in the day, kids didn’t have it so easy. (Ha, of course they didn’t.) After losing a tooth, a child would stand outside and throw the tooth backwards over their shoulder up onto the roof, then pray that the Tooth Mouse would catch it before some other animal got hold of it. All this to ensure that the new tooth would grow in quickly, so the child could avoid a whole host of scary outcomes: germs getting in through the gap where the baby tooth had been, or a donkey tooth growing in its place – or becoming toothless altogether, like a chicken.
There’s a synergy between the folklore, the translation and the illustrations, a clear sense that these traditions served to ward off ill health and other disasters. I loved Lópiz’s drawing of the sick little boy in bed, covering his mouth for dear life while a group of concerned mice look on. And in the text, a warning: ‘Some even believed that your very soul could escape through that hole.’ But there’s a bright side, too: losing teeth ‘means you’re growing up … you can do things on your own, and you can take care of yourself’.
As Herreros details how the Tooth Mouse rituals in Spain changed over time, Lópiz’s illustrations keep the story lively with unique angles, perspectives and colour palettes. We see a colourful cluster of houses with big, billowing, tooth-shaped smoke clouds emerging from the chimneys, and we learn that when homes got too tall, children began throwing their teeth into the fireplace instead (always over the shoulder, of course). At some point, kids began to receive little gifts or coins in exchange for their teeth. And eventually, Tooth Mouse Pérez moved to northern Italy, where he met the Italian version of the Tooth Fairy – the Tooth Ant. The mouse and the ant had a daughter, who was born with the body of a mouse and giant ant wings, and when she moved to New York, voilá, The Tooth Fairy was born.
Herreros and Lópiz’s previous book, The True Story of a Mouse Who Never Asked for It, made the New York Times Best Children’s Book list in 2021. Their new book, also published by Enchanted Lion Books, is sure to be equally well received. It does a wonderful job of weaving folklore and art into a charming tale that spans continents and generations.
Reviewed by Kelley D. Salas
THE AMAZING AND TRUE STORY OF TOOTH MOUSE PÉREZ
by Ana Cristina Herreros
Illustrated by Violeta Lópiz
Translated by Sara Lissa Paulson
Published by Enchanted Lion Books (2023)
Buy books from The Spanish Riveter through the European Literature Network’s The Spanish Riveter bookshop.org page.
Kelley D. Salas is a freelance translator and editor specialising in children’s literature, memoir, and literary nonfiction. Her translations have been published by Street Noise Books, Words Without Borders and Literal Magazine, among others.