The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale by Carmen Agra Deedy & Randall Wright, Drawings by Barry Moser
Fleet of foot, sleek and solitary, Skilley was a cat among cats. However, when he takes up residence at Ye Old Cheshire Cheese, the famous historic London haunt for writers, formaggio aficionados, a spectre in the attic, and a couple hundred mice, Skilley’s unseemly secret becomes increasingly difficult to keep secret. You see, even though he is a mouser with excellent showmanship, Skilley is above all a cheese-eating cat.
- befriends Pip, a plucky young mouse with secrets and skills of his own
- intrigues Charles Dickens, who is stymied by the opening line to his greatest tale yet (of two cities)
- squares off against Pinch, the feline embodiment of Bill Sykes, who is definitely not a cheese-eating cat
- owns up to and overcomes his true nature
- helps to restore a matter of England’s uttermost national security
If that doesn’t reel you in, perhaps you will be charmed (as I was) by the nimble way Deedy and Wright weave Skilley and Pip’s storylines through Victorian fact and fiction. A Tower of London legend tracing back to Bran the Blessed entangles the plot. England’s welfare hinges on Mr. Thackeray’s–yes, the William Makepeace Thackeray–fondness for peppers. We get a peek at the (perhaps fictional) scrawls in Mr. Dickens’ notebook, which features actual Dickens-invented words and a comparison of a cat with Skilley’s coloring to the surly misunderstood hero, Sydney Carton. (Visit here for more information)
Furthermore, this Cheese is ripe with humor and wordplay, along with themes of good and evil and betrayal and redemption–all on Dickensian proportions, of course. And having read some Dickens in high school, I enjoyed smelling out the strategically placed shout-outs to his many works. However, I bet it would be equally delightful for young readers to devour this book unaware of the inside jokes, only to be pleasantly surprised later on during their Brit-lit unit.
To conclude, it’s a far far better book that I read, than I have read in a while; it’s a far far better Dickens experience than I have ever known. Cheesy though it may be, this book certainly exceeded expectations, and it was great!