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Mouse works in the scullery at Dunston Manor, peeling onions, stirring the pots, sweeping the floors, and doing her best not to get into trouble with the fractious cook. Alone at night in the dark corner she calls home, she wishes for something wondrous to happen and dreams of a better life. But what chance does she have, a girl born with nothing, not even a proper name?

Then Mouse sees a puppet play and knows at once what she must do. Somehow she must learn to make the puppets dance. Somehow she must become the puppeteer's apprentice. But the puppeteer is harboring some uncomfortable secrets, and Mouse doesn't know whether she has the courage it takes to fulfill her dreams.

How Mouse finds her place in the world, and a very special name, is the heart of this thoroughly absorbing and remarkable story set in medieval England.

By D. Anne Love
In medieval Europe, an orphan girl called Mouse gains the courage she needs to follow her dreams of becoming a puppeteer's apprentice.
• Simon Swan said, "A man's soul must be fed as well as his belly." What does Simon mean by "feeding a soul"? Do you think that this is true, and why or why not? What kinds of things feed your soul: music, a good book, a visit with a friend?
• Names or the lack thereof are very important to this story. Mouse does not know her real name. What does her nickname say about her? Does her name reflect her personality? We also don't know the puppeteer's name. What reasons might the author have for keeping it secret?
• What is an apprentice? If you could be an apprentice, where would you work and what would you do?
• Many of the plays the puppeteer performed were historical tales like Noah and the Ark, King Arthur, and the story of St. George and the Dragon. These tales were well known to the audience, but they enjoyed hearing them again and again. Why do you think these stories were so popular? Can you think of stories that you like to hear over and over?
• Why did Mouse (Sabine) decide to leave the kind duke and his family to follow in her mentor's footsteps as a puppeteer?
• Essay: Have students research and write about the meaning of their names. They could interview parents and/or relatives to find out why they were so named. Focus on positive self-discovery in having them detail how their own names reflect who they are or who they want to be.
• One of the plays that Mouse performs is the story of King Arthur. Research the tale of King Arthur. Retell the story in class or show an educational film. Have students visit the library and create bibliography cards for a set amount of resources containing information on this subject.
• Make an imaginary map of the townships, woods, and castles that Mouse visits. For fun, "age" the paper using vinegar water and tearing techniques.
• Separate students into groups and instruct them to write and put on a puppet play. It can be helpful to give them some guidance on a story: for example: rewrite a favorite folktale or fairy tale.
• Students can make puppets and design a stage. Students can be the puppets, using jerky puppetlike movements, while team members speak for them. If available, use real string puppets to demonstrate the art of puppetry movement.
This reading group guide is for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.
Prepared by Tabitha Hogan
© William Allen White Children's Book Award
Please visit for more information about the awards and to see curriculum guides for other master list titles.
Photograph courtesy of author

D. Anne Love is the author of several award-winning novels for young readers, including Defying the Diva, Picture Perfect, Semiprecious, and The Puppeteer’s Apprentice. Ms. Love lives in Texas hill country with her husband, Ron, and Major and Jake, their book-loving golden retrievers. You can visit her online at

Kirkus Reviews, starred review A must-read.

School Library Journal, starred review A wonderfully written tale.

  • South Carolina Picture Book Award Nominee
  • William Allen White Children's Book Award Reading List (KS)
  • Land of Enchantment RoadRunner Award Nominee (NM)
  • Keystone to Reading YA Bk Awrd (PA)
  • Sasquatch Book Award Nominee (WA)

More books from this author: D. Anne Love