fiction favorites…The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale

The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale, by Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright, drawings by Barry Moser

He was the best of toms.  He was the worst of toms.

Fleet of foot, sleek and solitary, Skilley was a cat among cats.  Or so he would have been, but for a secret he had carried since his early youth.  A secret that caused him to live in hidden shame, avoiding even casual friendship lest anyone discover —

“Scat, cat!” A broom came down hard out of London’s cold and fog.  Startled, Skilley leapt sideways and the broom whiffled empty air.
The cat, however, refused to scat.
He eyed the dead fish, then the broom, calculating the distance between the two.
“Off now, you thieving moggy!” the fishmonger shrilled.  As if reading his thoughts, she kicked the fish under her stall and cocked the broom for another swing.
Angry women with brooms unnerved him.  The only encounter Skilley dreaded more was one with Pinch, the terror of Fleet Street.  With a flick of his peculiar tail, Skilley turned his back to the fishwife, putting all the disdain he could muster into the sway of his hips.

Skilley, the streetwise London cat, is weary of the hunger and terrors of Fleet Street, so when he hears of an opportunity at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, that venerable London pub, famed as a haunt for writers such as Mr. Charles Dickens and his friend, Mr. Wilkie Collins, a modest yet cozy tavern currently in want of a mouser, he leaps at the chance.

In truth, Skilley has his sights set on something other than mice.  And when one of the mice, a pert fellow named Pip, discovers Skilley’s close-guarded secret, Skilley enters into a pact with him which seems to be highly satisfactory for all.  That doesn’t take into account, though, the rascal Pinch, who wants some of those tasty mice for himself, Croomes, the tavern’s iron-handed cook, nor the mysterious Maldwyn, cloistered in the upper reaches of Ye Olde Cheddar Cheese, on whose shoulders rest the fate of Britain and the Queen herself!

While Mr. Dickens himself enjoys a pint of ale and some steak and kidney pie, hard at work to come up with a great opening line to his current story starring Sydney Carton, he keeps one amused eye on the incongruous behavior of Skilley, Pip, Pinch, and others, and benefits in a most uncanny way!

This extremely clever book weaves a terrific story, which is also packed with sly references to Dickens’ work and world. While young readers or listeners will not catch them, they are great fun for older and adult readers.  Meanwhile, the plot, the charismatic characters, and the fabulous London setting will draw in folks  ages 10 and up.  The vocabulary is deliciously challenging, with a glossary at the back for toothsome words such as hugger-mugger, chummery, bubble and squeak, and scrivener.

The text is beautifully accented with Moser’s exquisite pencil drawings, as well as an occasional smudgey page from Dicken’s journal and some very cleverly roving typeset.  It’s an artistic work, from words to art to layout, and one of the most delightfully creative books I read this past year.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and recommend it for excellent readers, 10 and up.

Here’s an Amazon link:

The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale