Dear Mr. Oakley,
“The Church Mouse” was recommended to me by Cate, one our readers here at Dear Author, a few years ago. I took note of the title, wrote down your name and had always meant to seek out the book. With the best intentions it took me a while to finally match “I need to” with “I bought it” but finally I did. And boy am I glad. What a delightful story.
Arthur is the resident mouse in a lovely English church “in a busy little town, not very far away…” He loves loud (organ) music, sailing his paper boat in the font and Sampson, the church cat who has listened to so many sermons about the meek and brotherly love that he treats Arthur like a brother. But Arthur is tired of a diet of sweets dropped by the boys at choir practice and lonely for the company of other mice. One day he hatches a plan, of which the parson approves, to go out into town and invite other mice to come live at the church.
Arthur entices them with the fact that the church is not only warm and quiet but also that the parson will supply them with cheese for odd jobs. Oh, and Sampson is “right under my thumb … er … almost.” With the exception of the schoolmouse – well, there always has to be a spoil sport – the mice are enthusiastic. Everything goes well until one Sunday when, after a trying day spent babysitting the little mice, Sampson falls asleep during the sermon and dreams of the days before he was reformed. Chaos ensues and the townspeople demand that the mice leave.
The disgruntled mice – lead by the busybody schoolmouse of course – grumble that evening while ignoring Sampson – that leopard in sheep’s clothing – and Arthur – who is one too. That is until they notice something fishy is happening. A thief has broken into church intent on stealing the beloved candlesticks which the townspeople had saved for years to buy. Can the mice and Sampson save the day and redeem themselves?
I found “The Church Mouse” charming. The colorful illustrations are simple but would allow a child to easily follow the story as it’s read or as they’re learning to read it. I also like the “Englishness” of them – the town has “The Red Lion” hotel while the church has carved crusader monuments. Arthur – and the other mice – gorge themselves on strawberry humbugs and treacle lumps when not eating the Wensleydale, Chesire or Caerphilly cheeses provided by the parson. I also spent time turning the book over and peering closely at the items Arthur and the other mice stand on – including the pomegranate flavoured tooth paste and Dr. Hacker’s Throat Pastilles – as well as reading the shop windows – “High Quality Dairy Produce” – and noticing the antique round red postal box.
It’s not until the book is finished that the lessons so quietly told with gentle humor might be noticed: treat everyone fairly, don’t eat too many sweeties, work together for the common good and don’t take your church cat for granted. Now I’m off to check out the other books in the series.