Margery Sharp, illustrated by Garth Williams (1962)
I found a paperback edition of Miss Bianca on my mother’s nightstand when I was in upper elementary school. Someone must have lent it to her (it didn’t look new), not realizing that (A) she has a horror of small rodents and (B) she doesn’t like narratives that feature talking animals. She also doesn’t read children’s books generally speaking, which is why I assumed when I came upon this one that it was an adult book.
Unlike my mother, I didn’t have a problem with talking rodents. In fact, I was surprised by how appealing this presumably adult book looked lying there on the nightstand. So I picked it up, whisked it into my lair, and started reading.
As far as I was concerned, this was the first adult book I’d ever read, and I have to say I was impressed with myself—both for how easy I found it to understand and how much I enjoyed it. I felt as if someone had left the keys to the family station wagon lying around, and I’d picked them up and taken the car out for a spin. I was driving along, the window open and the breeze in my hair, enjoying the sights. This was easy! It was fun! There were talking mice!
This experience with Miss Bianca—even if it was based on a misunderstanding—got me through some tough times when I hit junior high English and actual adult books without a friendly animal in sight. (Although I should add that Margery Sharp was also the author of several books for adults, and that the first book in the Miss Bianca series, The Rescuers, seems to have been originally intended for adults.)
My objections to my seventh-grade-English reading list are a rant for another day, but if those books, unleavened by Miss Bianca, had been my introduction to the world of “adult literature,” I would have been well and truly discouraged. Let’s just say that Miss Bianca and the Prisoners’ Aid Society rescued me from giving up on adult books prematurely.