Friday, November 18, 2011

Fantastic Friday: The Cheshire Cheese Cat by Carmen Agra Deedy & Randall Wright

The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale
written by Carmen Agra Deedy & Randall Wright, drawings by Barry Mose
Peachtree, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-56145-595-4
Grades 3-6
Reviewed from copy received from publisher.

Skilley, an alley cat with an embarrassing secret, longs to escape his hard life dodging fishwives brooms and carriage wheels and trade his damp alley for the warmth of the Cheshire Cheese Inn. When he learns that the innkeeper is looking for a new mouser, Skilley comes up with an audacious scheme to install himself in the famous tavern. Once established in the inn, Skilley strikes a bargain with Pip, the intelligent mouse-resident, and his fellow mice. Skilley protects the mice and the mice in turn give to Skilley the delectable Cheshire cheese of the inn. Thus begins a most unlikely alliance and friendship. The cat and mouse design a plan to restore Maldwyn wounded raven and faithful guard in the service of Queen Victoria to his rightful place in The Tower, but first they must contend with a tyrannical cook, a mouse-despising barmaid, and an evil tomcat named Pinch. Will the famous author suffering from serious writer s block who visits the Cheshire Cheese pub each day be able to help?
I'll say right off the bat that I really enjoyed this book.  I enjoyed the characters, Skilley, the cat who loves cheese but considers it a shameful thing, Pip, the mouse who can read and right, and Maldwyn, the grumpy but duty bound raven. The setting is presented beautifully, the cellar with the marvelous cheese, the kitchen and its dangerous inhabitant Croombs, the edge of the roof where Pip goes when he needs time alone.  The insertion of Dickens and his writer's block, provides an interesting perspective on what is happening within the inn.  Moser's drawings show the emotions of the various characters beautifully.  They add a touch of humor to the drama as well, lightening the mood just a tad. 

The themes presented in the story are integrated naturally in the story.  Themes of friendship, mistakes, fear, forgiveness, and truth permeate the book.  I appreciated most the lesson that Maldwyn teaches Skilley after he betrays Pip's trust. Maldwyn tells him,
"...I am here to tell you that you cannot undo it any more than I can fly back to the Tower on my own and resume my rightful place.  Only worms and insects have no memories of past sins.  And only humans can choose to forget them.  We animals must live with our foolhardy choices....All one can do is own up to the truth." (pg. 119)
Truth, a powerful, and often painful thing to face up to.  I wonder what the world would be like if we humans were more willing to humble ourselves and face up to the truth as Skilley does in this book. A thought well worth discussing. One of my favorite books of the year, I highly recommend it.

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