Any book that proclaims itself “A Dickens of a Tale” (emphasis mine) has some big shoes to fill. To call myself a Charles Dickens fan would be an understatement. An enthusiast would be more appropriate, but still misses the mark somewhat. I expect a lot when Mr. Dickens’ name is called into action, and in the case of The Cheshire Cheese Cat, I was not disappointed.
The Dickens in question here is the man himself, a frequenter of Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese Inn, and a frustrated writer in search of a killer opening line to his newest work. Mr. Dickens is merely an observer, however, as the main action of The Cheshire Cheese Cat takes place nearer the floorboards, and concerns a cat named Skilley and a mouse named, of all things, Pip. Both of these extraordinary animals have a secret that sets them apart from their kind. Skilley, an alley cat who takes up residence at the Inn under the guise of a mouser, doesn’t like eating mice, but instead craves cheese. And Pip, favorite of the innkeeper’s daughter Nell, can read, write and communicate, that is with those humans like Nell who will pay attention. Here begins an unusual and remarkable friendship that will test its bonds through betrayal, secrets, new friends, old enemies and even Her Highness Queen Victoria herself.
Being a cat fan myself, I was instantly taken with the cover of this book. Though I’ve never seen its like in real life, I can imagine it happening, which is the important part. The curve of the cover’s text is pleasing as well, matching the curve of Pip’s body and tail. Everything about this cover made me want to pick it up and read it, so there’s half the battle done. Luckily for me, I found the inside to be just as rewarding as the outside. The story is properly Dickensian, with twists and turns, colorful characters (I grew to love Croomes the cook and Too, the too small mouseling), pops of humor, daring heroes and dastardly villains. There is success and there is cost, as there should be in every good story worth telling. Skilley and Pip are wonderful characters, as they need to be. What Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright have created is an animal tale with every bit the bite of good human drama. And when everything dovetails together at the end, it does so by a skilled hand. Nothing is left unknown or undone, the heroes are venerated, the villains vanquished. The final page comes with great satisfaction, not only to the dear Mr. Dickens, but to the reader as well.
The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale by Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright, ill. Barry Moser
2011, Peachtree Publishers
2011, Peachtree Publishers