In Many Hispanic Countries, The Tooth Fairy Is A Mouse

By | May 12, 2021

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A house mouse sitting on the glove of a biologist (Patrick Pleul/picture alliance via Getty Images)

In the United States, the Tooth Fairy buys children's teeth for who knows what horrific purposes, but the tooth-collecting entity of some cultures doesn't even try to maintain a facade steeped in little girls' fantasies. El Ratoncito Perez, or the Little Mouse, is the Latin American rodent version of the Tooth Fairy.

The Little Mouse

El Ratoncito Perez, literally Perez the Mouse, was born in a collection of children's stories published in 1877 by Fernan Caballero, where he was just a timid mouse who was somehow married to an ant. In 1894, when Luis Coloma was commissioned to write a children's story for the eight-year-old King Alfonso XIII of Spain to celebrate his first lost tooth, Coloma remembered Caballero's book and embellished his story about the little mouse, housing him in a cookie box in a Madrid alleyway when he wasn't traveling through a network of pipes to the bedrooms of sleeping children who had recently lost their teeth.

The young king loved the story of El Ratoncito Perez, and soon, so did all of Spain. Parents around the country urged their children to place their lost baby teeth under their pillows at night for Perez to find, Coloma's original manuscript was given a place of honor at the Royal Palace Library of Madrid, and the city even erected a plaque where El Ratoncito Perez was supposed to live. The tradition quickly spread throughout the Spanish-speaking world, including in Mexico, Colombia, Guatemala, Argentina, Peru, and Venezuela.

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The Little Mouse as depicted in 'Les Secrets de la Petite Souris des dents de lait.' (Francois-Xavier Poulain/Wikimedia Commons)

Teeth Mice Elsewhere

Weirdly, about 200 years earlier, a French author with the entirely excessive name Marie-Catherine Le Jumel de Barneville, the Baroness d'Aulnoy wrote a similar story about a dentally concerned mouse called La Bonne Petite Souris, or The Good Little Mouse. La Petite Souris actually is a fairy who turns herself into a mouse to fight an evil king, and at various points of the story, she hides under the king's pillow and casts a spell to cause all of his teeth to fall out. This story may have inspired Caballero or Coloma or been completely foreign to both. Sometimes, teeth mice just happen.

In fact, mice often take baby teeth in folk tales from Japan, India, and across South Asia. According to these stories, if a child's tooth is found by an animal, their adult tooth will grow in the shape of that animal's teeth. It was most desired (and fortunately most common) for teeth to be found by mice, as mouse teeth are strong and sharp, though today's children might have a different take. Fingers crossed that yours lose their teeth in the ocean, where they can be found by a Jaws!