The Cheshire Cheese Cat

The Cheshire Cheese CatAnother book recommendation from my daughter and her school library! The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale is an amusing story about unlikely friendships and overcoming assumptions. Charles Dickens has a supporting role, with details that will keep fans of Dickens engaged (admittedly, that will mostly be adults—but that’s part of why this book is perfect to read with your kids).

There are beautiful and frequently amusing pencil sketches throughout, and the text is designed to work with those sketches. Sometimes the text curves around, grows bigger, or is staggered to reflect the words. It’s a rare novel that’s laid out with the care of a picture book to make sure the illustrations and the text work together (Hapenny Magick is another example) and the result is delightful.

SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid


It’s a story about cats and mice. Although Skilley—our feline hero—is a friend to mice, most cats are not. Pinch—our feline villain—is a brutish cat who had a brutish master before he became an alley cat. We hear in passing about how his master killed someone and was hanged as Pinch watched without sorrow. There are fights between Pinch and Skilley, and of course he repeatedly attacks the mice. He does kill a few, but none we know very well. Too—the youngest mouse, so named because she’s a bit too much of everything—seems to be fatally attacked; she survives, but is missing a leg. It’s not graphic, but it might be disturbing for some readers. Pip—our mouse hero—is nearly boiled alive. Adele—a human—previously killed mice with a meat cleaver and seems eager to do so again.


It’s a book full of unlikely friendships. However, it doesn’t rely on a simple “Why can’t we all just get along?” message. Skilley and Pip go through some understandably rough times. Maintaining a friendship between two very different creatures can result in misunderstandings, intense self-reflection, and difficult forgiveness.

Believing Kids

The innkeeper’s young daughter was sent away because she insisted the mice could communicate with her. Eventually she stands up for herself and refuses to be sent away again, and she does it without pretending her father is right. In the end, of course, her ability to communicate with the mice saves the day and everyone believes her. There’s a quiet message that maybe you shouldn’t just blow off someone who tells you something that’s hard to believe.


I hesitate to call this a historical novel since it’s about cats and mice and birds who can talk to each other, but it does have many characters based on real people—Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, William Makepeace Thackeray, and Queen Victoria all put in appearances. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese Inn is a real place. There are other details that might give inquisitive readers a hook into researching more history, like the ravens at the Tower of London. The book’s website is a good place to start.

Reading, Writing, and Vocabulary

Pip is a well read mouse. He’s even learned to write with his tail and an ink well. He has a good vocabulary, and Skilley frequently asks him to define his words. There’s also a glossary in the back of the book for readers who could use some help. The inn is a hangout for local writers and there are notes from Charles Dickens as he struggles to finish A Tale of Two Cities. The inability to read on the part of Skilley and the other mice leads to some confusion, although nothing too dire.


It’s a cute, engaging, and fast paced book. With its short chapters, illustrations, and slightly challenging vocabulary, it’s a perfect book for younger precocious readers and older reluctant readers. Especially if you’re good at voices and accents, I think it would make a wonderful read aloud, although expect your child to be practically crawling into your lap to see the illustrations. It’s a fun diversion for any fan of Dickens. My 13 year old daughter loved it and highly recommended it to me.


The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale by Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright
Drawings by Barry Moser
Published in 2011 by Peachtree Publishers
Read my daughter’s library book


  1. Please tell your daughter I am very happy to read that she enjoyed the adventures of Pip and Skilley! She may hear of their further exploits quite soon . . . look to the Tower, a murder of ravens, and a ghostly presence on Tower Green.

    Yours, most gratefully (for the lovely and thoughtful review),
    Carmen Agra Deedy

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