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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Pandemic project: “The Mouse Who Wanted to Paint”

By Cindy Hval For The Spokesman-Review

When Mikel Reuter saw her neighbor Vicki West’s whimsical watercolor self-portrait in the fall of 2019, it captivated her imagination.

The painting features West peering at a tiny mouse holding a dripping paintbrush.

“I told her I wanted to write a story about that mouse,” Reuter said. “A year passed, and I always thought about him and wondered how did he get into her house?”

When shutdowns hit the state in the spring of 2020, she picked up her pen and began to write.

“I’ve always really liked writing,” she said. “I was a teacher for grades K through 3, and one of my favorite things was reading to children.”

In fact, when she retired she became a volunteer story lady for Spokane Public Libraries and was also a story lady at Woodridge Elementary. Writing a children’s book starring a curious mouse came naturally to her.

“I had the perfect mouse name, but so much time had passed I’d forgotten it,” Reuter said. “So he became Jasper.”

The story begins with Jasper living in an alley next to a restaurant. His mother had sent him out into the world to find his dream.

“Where can I find a dream?” Jasper wondered.

He sees Vicki painting in her gallery and that’s where Jasper discovers his dream. He wants to be an artist, just like Vicki. So, he sneaks into her bag and goes home with her.

“My favorite line in the book is ‘Vicki and Jasper became friends as people and animals often do,’ ” Reuter said.

West, a local artist, was delighted to illustrate the book that her painting had inspired. The pen and watercolor pictures bring Jasper and his friends (and enemies) to life.

“The story inspired every illustration,” West said. “Mikel’s story was very real to me. The illustrations just naturally evolved.”

Reuter enjoyed watching Jasper’s adventures unfold in picture form.

“Vicki implemented every single thing I saw in my mind,” she said.

The book was finished in June and published through Gray Dog Press in Spokane in early December.

As to why she chose to self-publish, Reuter was direct.

“I’m 79,” she said. “I didn’t want to wait for a traditional publisher – I wanted to see it, now!”

Knowing the value of hearing books read aloud, Reuter also recorded the book and included a QR code in it, so children can listen if there’s no adult available to read to them.

“Isaiah Moss (4am Studio) usually records hip-hop records and had never done a children’s book,” she said. “He went out of his way to help a little, old lady.”

Reuter said the message of the book is twofold; Jasper’s dream came true and so can yours and you have to work hard to attain your dream – it doesn’t just happen. A sequel may be in the cards.

“It’s perking,” she said.

For her, the best thing about the book is seeing its impact on children. The longtime volunteer at the American Cancer Society Discovery Shop on Garland has a special friendship with an 8-year-old boy who comes into the store with his mom.

“I had a copy of ‘The Mouse Who Wanted to Paint,’ when he came to the shop,” she said. “I showed him the pictures and paraphrased the story. As they walked out, he stopped, turned around and said, ‘That was a really good book.’ ”

Children and grownups can email Jasper the mouse at master.jasper.mouse@gmail.com

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