The Cheshire Cheese Cat by Carmen Agra Deedy, Randall Wright, Barry Moser

The Cheshire Cheese Cat is a wonderful children’s tale that manages to hit the right notes at every turn: engaging, intriguing, with a bit of mystery, plenty of great London history, and intelligently written. Beautifully rendered graphic drawings complement the heartwarming story. I was greatly reminded Charlotte’s Web – with its pathos and balanced mix of emotional resonance.

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Story: Skilly is an alley cat looking to survive on the streets of London another day. When he learns of the mouse problem at the Cheshire Cheese Inn, he comes up with a unique solution. One that involves a particularly intelligent mouse. But he will become engrossed with the mysteries at the Inn, secrets that involve Queen Victoria herself. And when an old vicious enemy appears, Skilly will have to find a way to keep his cozy place at the inn while still protecting his friends.

The historical aspects of the book are a nice touch and never intrusive or annoying. They fit seamlessly – from the setting of an actual historic inn to luminaries who make appearances. Charles Dickens is a regular and gives us some added narrative beyond Skilley’s and Pip’s. Other historical tidbits such as the Tower of London Ravens and Queen Victoria herself make an appearance as well.

I was especially impressed by the emotional depth of the story. From the exploration of friendship to the sadness of loss. Surviving on the streets in a Poorhouse to the lives at the Inn. The characters are well drawn and the story provides for a journey of great highs and lows. This is a book that respects children’s intelligence while still giving them points to think about as this is read. topics such as learning how to say sorry, loss, believing in others, to not giving in to peer pressure are explored in natural situations. The story doesn’t feel artificial at any time.

The illustrations are quite effective and a treat. Simple yet elegant (like the story) they are the perfect complement to a very good book. I enjoyed them as much as the story.

I highly recommend this book for middle grade kids or to be read at night. There is so much here to learn, explore, and ultimately enjoy for both parents and children.

Reviewed from an ARC.

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