While I’m not a great fan of those stories where animals are the characters (Redwall, The Tale of Despereaux, etc.), I just read the latest offering from the consummate storyteller, Carmen Agra Deedy, called The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale and it was wonderful! She and fellow author Randall Wright, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, begin, “He was the best of Toms. He was the worst of toms.”
Skilly lead the rough and tumble life of a street cat. With ears scarred and tail permanently bent from a lost battle with a door, he stalks the streets of London in search of his favorite fare and it’s not what you might think! On that fateful afternoon, he finds himself faced with Pinch, truly the worst street cat around. Pinch warns him off of his new haunt, the Cheshire Cheese Inn, a place sure to be run over with mice. Skilly saunters off, feigning disinterest but circles back around and finds a way into the inn and into heaven! It’s warm, it’s cozy, it’s full to overflowing with mice…and CHEESE! This is Skilly’s dreadful secret. He is not at all interested in mice. His true love is cheese. Upon meeting a most unusual mouse, Pip, the two strike a rather odd bargain. Skilly will make like a great mouser and seem to clear the inn of mice but really, he’ll catch and release them. In return, the mice will keep him fed in cheese, glorious cheese! It all works out swimmingly until the day the Adele, the cook’s assistant and notorious mouse-hater, brings in a cruel looking ginger cat named Pinch! Now, Skilly’s comfy arrangement is in dire jeopardy and he will do almost anything to protect it, even the unthinkable.
What a delightful romp through Dickensian England with occasional appearances of the man himself, as he is a regular at the Cheshire Cheese Inn with many of his writing contemporaries who also make cameo appearances. In fact, you will be most surprised to find out from where Dickens’ most famous opening lines came. The animals in this book are extraordinary and there’s a lot going on. You will learn about the 6 ravens of The Tower of London and how they came to be there as well as many words in the English language that befuddle the average cat but are good words to know. The authors have included a glossary, in case some of the human readers are also befuddled. Barry Moser’s lovely ink drawings appear at just the right moment and are so expressive! An interesting aside, The Cheshire Cheese Inn is an actual place and is known far and wide for its exceptional cheeses. Anthropomorphism fans and non-fans alike will enjoy this delightful animal story! And…If you ever get the chance to hear Carmen Agra Deedy do her storytelling thing, I highly recommend that you make haste! She’s one of the best out there!!!