Review: The Cheshire Cheese Cat December 2, 2011Posted by ccbooks in Book Reviews.
One of the highlights of the National Book Festival this year was hearing some stories from Carmen Agra Deedy, who is a master storyteller and the most engaging combination of Southern charm and Latina energy I have ever seen. Deedy’s latest book is The Cheshire Cheese Cat, written with Randall Wright and illustrated by Barry Moser. The subtitle of the book is ‘A Dickens of a Tale’ and it is to Deedy and Wright’s credit that the story incorporates so many Dickensian references and themes while still feeling entirely fresh.
Friendship, power, and self-understanding are the main themes in this tale of a cat named Skilley, who wheedles his way into the position of mouser at the famous Cheshire Cheese Inn. But Skilley has his own reasons for wanting to live at the Inn, and they have less to do with the mice than the famous dairy product that the inn produces. A mysterious visitor, a vengeful alley cat, and various helpful and hysterical humans all add to the action and the comedy. My students absolutely loved hearing this book read aloud. Several of them had read abridged versions of Dickens books or had asked their parents about Dickens, so they caught references to, among other books, Oliver Twist, and Great Expectations. By the end, they were so invested in the story, that the final fights brought an outpouring of cheers and chanting the character names.
It has been a long time since I read a middle grade book that had as much fun with vocabulary and language as this one. Deedy and Wright incorporate authentic Victorian slang such as “hugger-mugger, thimblejigger, and whiddler,” as well as complicated words like “prismatic, stygian, and repast.” Most of these come from the authors who frequent the inn, as well as the mouse Pip, who has a taste for reading and writing. Fortunately for younger readers, Skilley is an alley cat with little education and demands explanations often, adding to the laughs as well as the learning.
Dickens is known for his original names, and Deedy and Wright also have fun coming up with various amusing character titles. One of my favorites is the explanation below of the name of the mouse who, after Pip, becomes Skilley’s helper and friend.
“Oh Papa, Too likes the cat. He smells like us!”
“Too?” Skilley turned to Pip for an answer.
“Too,” Pip said, with a grin “is her name. As in ‘too loud, too curious, too impulsive.’ If one can be too much of anything, that’s Too.”
For a fun read aloud, for a friend who loves Dickens, for a kid who loves words and animals and adventure, pick The Cheshire Cheese Cat.
The Cheshire Cheese Cat by Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright, illustrated by Barry Moser. Published October 2011 by Peachtree Books.