American author Russell Hoban was born in 1925 to Jewish Ukrainian immigrants living in Philadelphia, and showed an interest in and an aptitude for writing as a schoolboy. As an adult he worked as an art teacher, a freelance illustrator and an advertising copywriter, until he began writing children's fiction in 1958, with his first and certainly best-known full-length novel, The Mouse and His Child, (ISBN: 0439098262) which has been variously described as wonderful, tragic, pointless, and too dark for children of any age.
Perhaps to call The Mouse and His Child a children's book is to unfairly limit its audience. Considered by many (including this writer) to be a true masterpiece of both fable and philosophy, this poignant redemption tale relates the story of a pair of clockwork mice pressganged into slavery by Manny the junkyard rat, and their subsequent escape and search for a place of belonging. As such, it resonates with readers of almost every age.
The Mouse and His Child is a profound examination of existentialist philosophy, best captured by the child-mouse's determination to see "the last visible dog." Rusting at the bottom of a pond, his feet ensnared by mud, he finds himself staring at the disintegrating label of a dog-food can. The label features the picture of a chef-dog holding a tray upon which is a can of dog-food, also featuring a chef-dog holding a tray, and so on and so on, until the image is merely a dot on a slightly-larger-than-a-dot can. Even the ending of the book, which in many ways presents itself as the quintessential happy ending, is a bittersweet examination of revenge and one-upmanship and its fleeting reward.
Russell Hoban continues to publish.