Author: Carmen Agra Deedy & Randall Wright
Illustrator: Barry Moser
Publisher: Peachtree Publishers
Price: $16.95 (Cloth)
03/12/2012 Carmen Agra Deedy first came to national attention with a series of NPR commentaries, humorous but thoughtful, about her childhood. When Carmen was four, in 1964, the Agra family fled Castro's Cuba.
In a series of stories gathered as "Growing Up Cuban in Decatur, Georgia," she described the family's nostalgia and longing for the life they had known, and the sometimes difficult, sometimes inspirational adjustment to Decatur.
Deedy then turned her attention to a succession of children's books.
In collaboration with some remarkable artists/illustrators, she published "Martina the Beautiful Cockroach," "The Yellow Star," "14 Cows for America" (about the gift of the Masai tribe in sympathy for the tragedy of 9/11), and, most successfully of all, "The Library Dragon." The librarian in this book feels that every book should be on the shelf in its place and children are a nuisance.
She learns otherwise. Sales of "The Library Dragon" approach one million copies.
Now Carmen Agra Deedy has published a chapter book, for young readers, but it absolutely has a greater appeal than that.
Set in Victorian England in Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese Inn, a real and venerable pub, the protagonist is a cat named Skilley, a cat burdened with some terrible secrets.
The novel opens, in fact: "He was the best of Toms. He was the worst of Toms."
Most un-cat-like, Skilley likes mice and won't kill and eat them; he also has a mad taste for cheese. He's in the right place. The Cheshire Cheese Inn has the best cheese in London. Charles Dickens hangs out there, nibbling, observing and scribbling in his notebook, working on "A Tale of Two Cities." He is sometimes joined by Wilkie Collins or Thackeray. Skilley makes a deal with the mice—they'll provide him with cheese and he will leave them be, all the while pretending to catch one every once in a while to keep up appearances.
Unfortunately, another street cat, Pinch, a Bill Sykes character, comes into this paradise and Pinch DOES like to eat mice. Skilley must protect his mouse friends, and the question is raised—can't cats and mice get along? Must they fight? Can the lessons in this Aesop-like animal fable be made to apply to England and France?
Skilley's best friend among the mice is Pip, a mouse who has learned to read and write. He uses the tip of his tale. Generally, information is passed among the characters by "word of mouse," but as the plot progresses it becomes necessary to send a letter to the Yeoman Warder at the Tower of London because one of the six White Tower ravens is at The Cheese, having been injured in a fight with a cat, and England is only safe from invasion if at least six are present.
This "chapter book" is for youngsters to read by themselves, but there are enough of Barry Moser's charming drawings, of mice, cats, the raven, Dickens, Queen Victoria, the cook, and so on that it can serve as a book to be read TO younger children. Or you can just do what I did and read it for your own considerable amusement.