We all remember the excitement of leaving a newly lost tooth under the pillow for the tooth fairy in exchange for a bit of cash. In some cultures it is not a fairy collecting teeth but a mouse. In Spain, Mexico, and other countries in Latin America it is a mouse named Ratoncito Peréz, or El Raton de Los Dientes. In France the mouse is named La Bonne Petite Souris.
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This little rodent got his start in 1877 in the story of La Ratita Presumida (The Vain Little Mouse), where Peréz appeared as the title mouse's husband. He disappeared again until 1894. It was then that King Alfonso XIII of Spain lost a tooth at the tender age of 8 and author Luis Coloma was commissioned to write a story for his little majesty. It was then that Perez was resurrected and began a life of collecting teeth.
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In the story Ratoncito Peréz was living in Madrid with Coloma and his family. His official residence was within a box of cookies. He would often leave home to explore the city by way of the pipes and found his way into the bedrooms of children who had just lost a tooth. It was on these exploits that he met King Bubi (as his mother, Queen Maria Christina, called him. They developed a special friendship that has become legendary.
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Ratoncito Peréz is so honored in Spain that there is a memorial plaque posted on the warehouse where he was supposed to have lived. The plaque reads “Here lived, in a box of cookies, Ratoncito Peréz, according to the story that the father Coloma wrote for the young King Alfonso XIII.” His story has spread and now children in much of the Spanish-speaking world know leave their lost baby teeth under their pillows (or sometimes in a glass of water) for him. Instead of leaving cash the little mouse leaves some sort of gift.
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In the original story the tooth is placed in an envelope with a nice little note for Peréz. King Bubi waited up to see the legendary rodent and fell asleep. But he was woken up when the mouse came to take the tooth. As it turns out Peréz has three grown children -- two girls and a boy. The boy was studying diplomacy in the drawer of the Minister of State. Little is disclosed about Mrs. Mouse.
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The original manuscript is safely stored in the vault at the Royal Palace Library. To read the original story (minus illustrations) click here. Since then many different versions of the story of Ratoncito Peréz have come forth from a variety of authors in Spanish and English. You can purchase the original Spanish version (with illustrations) for Kindle by clicking here. A pendant coin of the mouse is also available by clicking here.
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Ratoncito Peréz has also made his way into popular culture through TV, movies, and theater. Colgate uses him in its advertising in Venezuela, and Delta Dental has used him in an information video aimed at children in the Hispanic community.
In teaching children about other cultures, perhaps Ratoncito Peréz can visit them next time they lose a tooth. Fortunately he is extremely adept at avoiding cats or he would have a lot of trouble in homes like mine.
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