Students in The Walker School’s Primary and Lower schools got a huge treat from one of Disney’s biggest stars and her sister recently when Idina Menzel and her sister, Cara Mentzel, visited the school to promote their newest children’s book “Proud Mouse.” The visit included the duo reading their book and singing parts of it along with the audience. And yes, no visit would be complete without singing “Let It Go,” a request from a young audience member.
“Proud Mouse” is the second picture book Idina Menzel and Cara Mentzel have produced. Their first book called “Loud Mouse” focused on Idina Menzel’s experience as a little girl who discovered she could sing really big and really loud.
“But I wasn’t always sure when the right time was to take up space and call attention to myself,” Menzel told the students. “Sometimes we make ourselves a little smaller around people so that we won’t make people feel uncomfortable. My experience has been that it’s not helpful to make ourselves smaller, that we have to share our gifts, so that’s what the first book is about.”
“Proud Mouse” is about the fact that Menzel has a younger sister who has to deal with her “being SO annoying,” Menzel said, drawing big laughs from the crowd. The sisters spell their last names differently because Idina Menzel said she thought that dropping the “t” from her name would help people pronounce her name correctly. She said it didn’t really work.
Cara Mentzel said of “Proud Mouse”: “You get to meet the little mouse who has been so proud of her big sister her whole life. She goes to school for the first time and she’s seen as Dee’s little sister [Idina goes by Dee in our family], so as the little sister she has to figure out ‘how can I get everybody to see me as Cara Lee? What makes me me? How am I like my sister, how am I different?’ ”
The “Proud Mouse” characters also sing in the book, so in addition to both of them singing, Cara Mentzel played the ukulele, an instrument she only began learning in January.
“I thought it would be fun to learn when we’re reading books to children to be able to bring some music to accompany our singing,” she said. “But mostly, I wanted to do it to be able to accompany her singing and not always have to sing with her. Because the question I grew up with my whole life was ‘Oh, can you sing like your sister?’ And of course, I can’t sing like my sister because no one can. But I sing like me, and sometimes it’s really beautiful, and other times it’s not. I learned the ukulele because that’s a fun way to express myself, too.”
The sisters were generous with their time and after they finished the book, they fielded questions from the audience including: “What’s your favorite color? What is your favorite ‘Frozen’ song? What is your favorite role? Can you sing ‘Let It Go‘?”
Cara Mentzel said her favorite color is orange, which is the color of the text the illustrator used in “Proud Mouse.” “I hadn’t told her my favorite color was orange, so that was a nice surprise.”
Idina Menzel said her favorite color is emerald green, which drew oohs, aahs and a big applause from the audience, especially from Upper School drama students and adults in attendance because of Menzel’s role as Elphaba in the musical “Wicked”. “Emerald green is my favorite color and always was,” Menzel said. “My eyes are green, my birthstone – I was born in May – so it’s green, so it’s just always been green, and then I got to play the Wicked Witch of the West and I was green every day.”
It only took three questions from the audience for a young student to ask Idina Menzel to sing “Let It Go.” She said she needed help from the audience because she hadn’t had time to warm up, and “Elsa sings in the Ice Mountain and has special powers.” And boy did the students did help her, especially when it came time to belt out the song’s refrain.
Trey Veazey, Assistant Head of Lower School, who was responsible for bringing the sisters to campus, asked Menzel: “The first time you heard ‘Let It Go,’ did you think you would be singing it forever and always?” Her response: “Well, no, I didn’t. I knew that I was very lucky to be awarded the role of a Disney princess. I didn’t know she was going to become a Queen. They were still writing it at the time, and if I would have known I was going to be singing it forever and always I wouldn’t have put it in that key.”
Veazey asked Cara Mentzel about growing up and when she realized “I’m me, and that’s good enough.”
“One of the really important things to us about ‘Proud Mouse’ is that we represented a child who didn’t necessarily know what they wanted to be when they grew up,” she said. “It wasn’t someone who was like ‘I’m going to be a writer, I’m going to be a teacher,’ even though that’s what I became. It was just a child who was curious about many, many things and even now, we’re here publicizing this book that we want you to read, but I’m not sure what I’m going to do next month, so you don’t necessarily have to know what you’re going to be when you grow up.”
She concluded: “You just have to be excited about what you’re going to learn next and move in that direction.”