May 10, 2013 by Heidi
Title: The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale [Goodreads]
Author: Carmen Agra Deedy [Website|Twitter]
Narrator: Katherine Kellgreen
Standing: Stand alone.
Genre: Middle Grade, Historical, Fantasy (Animal)
Published: January 10th, 2012 by Listening Library
Format: Audiobook; 4 hrs, 16 min.
Source: Borrowed from my local library.
Tired of dodging fishwives’ brooms and carriage wheels, alley cat Skilley yearns for the comfort of Ye olde Cheshire Cheese, a popular London inn. When he hears that the innkeeper is in need of a mouser, he hatches a scheme so audacious it will surely set him up for the rest of his nine lives. Once installed at the Cheese, Skilley looks forward to a life of ease. But a resident mouse named Pip uncovers Skilley’s scandalous secret, and the desperate cat is forced to make a pact with him. The two become allies, and harmony reigns until they are drawn into an intrigue involving a tyrannical cook, a strange visitor hidden in the attic, and an evil tomcat called Pinch. The ensuing mayhem threatens the peace of Ye olde Cheshire Cheese—and the entire British empire!
Carmen Agra Deedy’s The Cheshire Cheese Cat is the perfect example of good things coming in small packages, and paired with the marvelous Katherine Kellgreen to bring it to life, it is no surprise to me that it has received an Audie nomination for 2012. Anyone who has ever eaten with me should know that I have an intense fondness for cheese, and so of course I am easily charmed when led into a story that takes place entirely within the wall of a cheese shop/Inn–Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. Particularly when said Inn is a favorite haunt of beloved English author, Charles Dickens.
The Cheshire Cheese Cat is one of those charming children’s books that has smart references for the adults reading with the kids, but manage to do so in a way that doesn’t go above a child’s head. In this case, it was largely references to the authors Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens–the later of whom is an active and key participant in the story. The Cheshire Cheese Cat is a very typical animal fantasy, in which the mice are our heroes (Just why are mice always the chosen heroes of animal fantasy, I wonder?), but untypically, we are given this story through the eyes of a cat. An unusual cat who would rather eat cheese than mice. Quite an enterprising young cat, Skilley sees the need for a mouser at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese and quite literally pounces on the opportunity, inserting himself in a position to consume all the cheese he could desire while keeping the local mice safe.
There follows a surprisingly adventurous tale of a mouse who can read, the girl who loves him, an evil tomcat, a friendship broken (and mended), and a raven injured. The characters are lively and given depth by their actions and reactions. I loved that CAD really considered the natures of the animals she included in her story, personifying them in a way that made them relatable, but true to their inner beasts. The raven is wise, the mice (largely) humble, and Skilley unable to completely go against his natural instincts. I greatly enjoyed the overall adventure, but what I most appreciated about The Cheshire Cheese Cat was the unlikely friendship between the mouse Pip and Skilley the cat, largely because it wasn’t perfect or easy. It was a relationship that had very real conflicts and issues to overcome, expressing how trust is hard to earn, particularly once broken, but that does not mean it isn’t worth the effort and risk.
The story is written with a certain cadence befitting both it and the times, told with a dash of Victorian air, both the proper and grubby varieties. Alas, experiencing the joy of Katherine Kellgreen’s narration does mean sacrificing the charm of Barry Moser’s illustrations, but as someone who is coming to associate Kellgreen’s narration with such a time and place (she also narrates the Bloody Jack series), I wouldn’t have it any other way. Overall, my only real complaint about The Cheshire Cheese Cat was that it was over too quickly, but that will make it the perfect tale to share with kids on a short road trip or two.
Likelihood that I’ll be back for more: While I did very much enjoy The Cheshire Cheese Cat, it was aimed a bit younger in the Middle Grade range than I usually tend to read, as I believe are most of CAD’s works. And so, I likely won’t actively seek them out, but I’ll certainly be recommending to kids!
Recommended for: Lovers of animal fantasy, particularly those who enjoyed The Tale of Despereaux or Neversink (which are my personal favorites).
Get a second opinion:
Random Musings of a Bibliophile – “The book is eminently quotable while not being preachy or becoming about any given message.”
This review was written as part of the 2013 Armchair Audies.