What was by my side from the Thanksgiving holidays right on through, well, it’s still by my side, is cheese. I’m not talking about the cream cheese with chives of my youth or the brie of my 30s, but the robust hard cheeses of my middle age. And If I look to share blame for this overindulgence, I will charge & convict, but spare a sentence in the Tower of London a particular volume, for being an accomplice in an abundance of cheese love.
The culprit is a deftly illustrated book for ages 9-12 (& for those of us adults who read a lot of children’s books) that is also a beautifully told story of love among unlikely friends: The Cheshire Cheese Cat.
Barry Moser, of his own Pennyroyal Press and many superior projects, is the artist. And that signals a lot right there. Co-authors are Carmen Agra Deedy, one of this nation’s most beloved storytellers & a rip-roaring picture book author (The Library Dragon, The Secret Old Zeb & many more.) I was ever more her fan after I met her last year at the UCF Morgridge International Book Festival. Her co-author here in this is new to me; Randall Wright is now a writer I want to become familiar with for titles such as The Silver Penny.
In this collaboration, an uncommon blue alleycat, Skilley & a London chesse pub’s mouse, Pip, team up with a perfectly named girl, Nell, & a big bird. It’s fun, it beautifully carries off what the most welcome picture books do- bringing something clever to the story for adults. It also calls to mind the affection among unlikely characters in the Garth Williams-illustrated classic, The Cricket in Times Square. Surprises & secrets & yes, some sadness (watch out for that cleaver!) are salted through The Cheshire Cheese Cat, with a fond nod to Dickens & many atmospheric aspects of Olde London.
“The innkeeper bent forward, hands on knees, and inspected Skilley with a critical eye. London’s alleyways, docks and sewers appeared to have dealt harshly with the young cat. The artful dodging of hansom cabs, chamber pots, and inevitable fishwives’ brooms had left him with a ragged ear, numerous scrapes, and a tracery of scars.”