Idina Menzel and Sister Cara Mentzel Release a Picture Book Encouraging Kids To Own Their Superpower

The Frozen actor and her sister paired up to write Loud Mouse, a celebration of grappling with self-consciousness in order to own your voice.

idina menzel and sister cara mentzel

Courtesy of Idina Menzel

Whether you know her as Frozen's Queen Elsa, Elphaba in Wicked, or Rent's Maureen, Idina Menzel has been making her mark on pop culture for decades. But you may have never guessed that when she was a little girl, the multi-hyphenate entertainer felt self-conscious about her talent.

"I always had this big voice, and people would talk about me having this gift, and it made me feel really special, but it also was complicated for me, because I didn't want anyone to ever think that I was gloating or showing off," recalls the Tony Award-winning actor.

It's those complicated emotions that Menzel and her younger sister, teacher and writer Cara Mentzel (yes, they spell their names differently!), set out to explore in their new picture book Loud Mouse, which tells the story of Dee, a little mouse who loves to sing and is finding—and owning—her big voice.

Parents recently caught up with the duo, who shared their inspiration for the book, what it was like to write together as sisters, and which identifies most with Elsa and which with Anna.

On Exploring Self-consciousness

Menzel says that the idea for the book was a way to explore the feelings she experienced growing up. "I didn't want to draw too much attention to myself, because as Cara likes to say, we want to be seen and heard, but then oof, we're being seen and heard!" she remembers.

The singer-songwriter points out that she's had the opportunity to work with characters who struggle with similar concerns. "It felt like a pattern and a destiny for me to always be exploring this idea of young women that are sometimes afraid of their own power," explains Menzel.

In writing Loud Mouse, Menzel is grateful she could speak to that theme again, this time alongside her sister. It was important to both sisters that they showed battling insecurities as an ongoing learning experience. Mentzel praises "any opportunity we have to tell kids that they don't have to be so outcome-oriented." She explains, "It's not about your grade or what you're going to be when you grow up—it's about the process."

Menzel adds that she hopes the book will inspire readers to think about their own passions.​​ "What do you love to do?" she says. "If you just try to stick to doing things that you love, that will get you on the path to wherever you're supposed to be—and perhaps you'll realize your own identity in that way."

On Working on the Book as Sisters

The duo holed up together during the lockdown phase of COVID, and it was during that period that they got their pitch for the book together, explains Mentzel.

"Her first draft was like magic to me and brought tears to my eyes," shares Menzel. "There's nothing like that feeling when you feel someone understands you creatively and has your voice—literally."

That heartfelt feeling of mutual understanding wove its way into the book. Loud Mouse's main character's biggest supporter is her sister Cara. "I love the sibling dynamic in this book," says Menzel. "It is very true to who we are. We are very protective of one another."

On the Song That Accompanies the Book

As the sisters were working together on Loud Mouse, Menzel had the idea of adding "La La La" to the word "loud" whenever it appeared in the book. Mentzel points out, repetition in a picture book is a confidence-booster for kids. "When a refrain comes over and over, they [say], 'Oh, I know this part!' And they feel more engaged."

That refrain inspired the pair to create an empowering anthem called "The Loud Mouse Song," which they hope will inspire kids to be the best thing they could ever be: themselves.

Even when she picks up a script, Menzel says she hears "text as music all the time." That's just one of the reasons it made so much sense to write and release a song that accompanies the book.

"To me, it was a no-brainer," says Menzel, who jokes that her sister's really worried that she's going to "intimidate people by giving them the song." She continues, "But it's just as a starter—it's just to get everybody's feet a little wet. And they can sing it however they want."

On Who's Elsa and Who's Anna

Surprisingly, despite Frozen mania, the sisters say they've never been asked which of them most identifies with Elsa and who would be Anna. But in musing about it, Menzel says she sees herself in Elsa.

"Very similar to little Dee the mouse—a young person struggling to navigate and harness this huge power that they have and to accept it and embrace it and not be afraid of it," she notes.

And she also sees an overlap between the Arendelle sisters' relationship and her own. "What I love about our Elsa and Anna—which is so similar to Cara and myself—is how protective they are of each other and how much we feel each other's pain or joy," says Menzel.

As for Mentzel, she says she did feel like Anna, but as Menzel points out, there's more Elsa in her sister than people might guess. "Now, we're older—and I don't know about wiser—but we're older," jokes Mentzel. "And if I have to talk about teaching, I do take on a different tone of voice, a different persona. There is confidence there. I still light up in that way when it comes to being with kids."

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