Monday, June 25, 2012

Book Review: The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale, by Carmen Agra Deedy & Randall Wright (Barry Moser, ill.) (Peachtree Publishers, 2011)

Recommended for ages 9-12
Skilley is a street cat who finds himself hired by Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, a pub in Victorian London where writers like Charles Dickens find themselves inspired to write. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese makes some of the best cheese in the kingdom, and they’ve got a bit of a mouse problem. It should be a dream job for Skilley, but he has a secret – he doesn’t like to eat mice. He prefers cheese, truth be told. Skilley and the mice of Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, led by young Pip, work out an arrangement that should keep the staff at the Cheese fooled and Skilley’s belly fed until Pinch – a nasty street cat who’s had run-ins with Skilley before – shows up. Afraid that Pinch will discover his secret, Skilley finds his friendship with Pip at risk and Maldwyn, another guest of the Cheshire, in danger.

The Cheshire Cheese Cat is one of those stories that is just a fun, great read. The authors managed to create a morality tale and a story of friendship that has appeal to a huge age range. It would be a great read-aloud to younger grades, with anthropomorphic characters to keep them interested, and older readers will appreciate the dilemmas Skilley finds himself confronted with: unlikely friendships and looking “cool” in front of one’s peers among them. The characters, human and animal alike, are fleshed out and their interactions have depth. Inserting historical characters like Charles Dickens, who finds himself interested in the goings-on at the Cheese – goings-on that human patrons seem to miss – make the tale more fun, as does the visit from the “surprise guest” teased at the beginning of the book. Black and white illustations by Barry Moser add to the enjoyment and give the readers a little more grease for the imagination’s wheels.

The Cheshire Cheese Cat website offers information about Victorian London, Charles Dickens, The Cheshire Cheese, and more historical references found in the book. A fun page on Cheshire Cheese, thought to be the oldest cheese in England, provides the history of the cheese and recipes and would be a fun addition to any classes reading the book. Author Carmen Agra Deedy maintains a blog where she also maintains a list of events and appearances, awards and nominations, and her other books.

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