Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Cheshire Cheese Cat, by Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright (ages 8 - 11)

I've been wondering about how books hook readers, how they draw us in, and what makes us stay. Sometimes, it's immediate conflict and action; other times, we're enchanted with a magical place. The Cheshire Cheese Cat hooked me from the very first line: "He was the best of toms. He was the worst of toms. Fleet of foot, sleek and solitary, Skilley was a cat among cats. Or so he would have been, but or a secret he had carried since his early youth." This book hooked me from the beginning, bringing a smile to my face with its playful puns, true friendships, and wonderful writing.
The Cheshire Cheese Cat
by Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright
illustrated by Barry Moser
GA: Peachtree Publishers, 2011
audiobook available (narrated by Katherine Kellgren)
ages 8 - 11
available from your local library, favorite bookstore or on Amazon
nominated for the 2011 Cybils Middle Grade Fantasy & Sci-Fi
Skilley is an alley cat used to surviving on the streets of 19th century London, and so he is particularly pleased to have found a home as the mouser at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, a London inn frequented by Charles Dickens and other notable writers. But Skilley has a secret - one that he's going to have to confront very soon. He doesn't like to eat mice. In fact, he detests the thought of eating a mouse. It's cheese that he adores - cheese, delectable cheese. So when he catches his first mouse, he urgently whispers, "Run. If the innkeeper sees you..." Well, not only will the mouse have problems, but so will Skilley. This mouse, Pip, turns out to be a very special mouse - one who leads his fellow mice with courage and wits, and a true friend to Skilley.

The Cheshire Cheese Cat would make a wonderful read-aloud as a family, pulling in both younger and older listeners. I found myself completely drawn into Skilley's world, wondering how he will get himself out of different dilemmas. Parents will love the sprinkling of references to Dicken's works. Young readers will enjoy the tense drama and suspense. I particularly think children will relate to Skilley's agonies about how to apologize to Pip:
"Making a mess of things is an occupation at which even the most unskilled can excel. But mending is an art that requires years of practice. In short, breaking a thing is easy (even a child can do it); fixing that selfsame thing may be harder (sometimes even adult persons cannot manage it).

Skilley was learning this lesson in the most painful of ways. What he had broken was a thread of trust as thin and delicate as a glass filament - a thread that had bound him to one of only two friends in his life." (p. 126)
How many of us have found it hard to figure out how to say, "I'm sorry" and really mean it? That's never an easy thing, and Skilley struggles with it just as we would. And children will also relate to Pip. He's such a courageous, thoughtful little mouse - and a true friend.

Throughout, Barry Moser's illustrations add to the fun, drawing readers into the characters and their situations. He captures both animals' and people's faces with all the emotions you're feeling as a reader, helping us be right there in Skilley and Pip's place.

Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright dreamed up this idea for a story after teaching at a Brigham Young's writing conference in 2005. The idea first developed after Deedy visited London with her family and found Ye Old Cheshire Cheese on a eerie London night. Read more about how they worked on this story together over at Erika Rohrbach's Kirkus blog post "Of Mice and Men".

The Cheshire Cheese Cat will appeal to lovers of Kate DiCamillo's The Tale of Despereaux, but also to lovers of Stuart Little or Jenny and the Cat Club.

For other reviews, check out Charlotte's Library, School Library Journal's Fuse #8 and the Cybils shortlist. The Cheshire Cheese Cat received starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews, the School Library Journal and Publisher's Weekly.

The review copy came from our school library collection. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2012 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books


  1. I loved this book too - so delightful and fun but actually very skillfully plotted with wonderfully nuanced characters. A really delight to read!

  2. I meant, of course a really delightful read!

  3. I'm sad that it got no Newbery love! It was one of my favorite.