Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Cheshire Cheese Cat

The Cheshire Cheese Cat
by Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright
narrated by Katherine Kellgren and Robin Sachs
  2011, Listening Library
4 hours, 16 minutes
Children, Ages 8-12

Skilley is a cheese loving tom cat prowling the alleys of Charles Dickens' London in search of a safe haven. As it happens, The Cheshire Cheese, a local pub renowned for the excellence of its eponymous dairy product, is in search of a mouser! It seems to be a match made in heaven, but there are certain challenges that must be met in order for Skilley to secure the position - a rival tom cat, an erudite mouse named Pip, a stranded Raven of the Tower of London, a cleaver-wielding cook and a keenly intuitive kitchen servant...

The Cheshire Cheese Cat explores the difficulties of being different, of having friendship tested, of the adversities that individuals face but that ultimately shape character. Skilley has certain traits that are decidedly un-catlike and, his ego in trying to construct and preserve his cat image affects his relationships with others. Evolving self-awareness and reconciling his true nature with his public face show how the individual can change and grow rather than be inhibited by perecived stigmas. It's easy to make the comparison of Skilley's social dilemas with the challenges a child might face in terms of self-identity (embracing that which makes us unique) and social interaction (what it means to be loyal and the consequences of betrayal.) The scenes on which these ideas are explored are an opportunity for the child to make the correlation between the anthropomorphized animals and themselves and, require a bit of thoughtful listening.

The Cheshire Cheese Cat has an interesting hook to the story in that Charles Dickens and a couple of other literary luminaries of the time make an appearance in the story. Dickens' himself is given interstitial passages that provide a third person point-of-view to the goings on at the pub. Wilkie Collins and William Makepeace Thackery also make an appearance, though not given voice. Deedy and Wright have also provided some Easter Eggs for those familiar with the mid-19th century authors, e.g.The story opens with the line, "It was the best of toms, it was the worst of times" and we bear witness to Dickens struggling to find the opening lines for A Tale of Two Cities. Given that not many children are familiar with 19th-century authors and their works, these references may go over their heads.

There are some gruesome bits in The Cheshire Cheese Cat: Mice are eaten and nearly boiled alive and, the description of rodent infestation (multitude and aroma) were a bit nauseating for those who have experienced the like (see "Mice"); and while the overall feel of the book is not dark, if your child/-ren has/have a sensitivity to descriptions of animal suffering, you may want to be prepared.

Katherine Kellgren is the British-American narrator who voices the majority of the novel, providing the world view from Skilley's point-of-view. The book provides numerous opportunities to show off the narrator's talent with characterizations; but fair warning: The opening scene sets the tenor of the narrative with a screech and the story is delivered at near-breakneck speed.
Robin Sachs, the late British-American actor, narrates the sections from Dickens' point of view and though infrequent, are nice reprieves from the pitch and pace from the rest of the narrative.

Other Stuff: I borrowed a CD edition of The Cheshire Cheese Cat (by Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright; narrated by Katherine Kellgren and Robin Sachs) from the Jackson County Library System (Southern Oregon.) I receive no monies, goods or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post.

This is an Armchair Audies review :-)

Check out Heidi's Armchair Audies review of The Cheshire Cheese Cat at Bunbury in the Stacks!

See also: My review of Splendors and Glooms (by Laura Amy Schlitz; narrated by Davina Porter) and Heidi's Review of the same at Bunbury in the Stacks :-)

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