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REVIEW: The Church Mouse by Graham Oakley

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.

~Jayne

AmazonBN

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

21 Comments

  1. Dabney
    Jun 23, 2012 @ 10:52:37

    Is this a children’s book?

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  2. Nicolette
    Jun 23, 2012 @ 11:31:33

    My cousin (11 years younger than me) had these as a child and I loved reading them even though I was in my teens at the time. I searched for them when my son was born in 2008, but they were out of print and I didn’t want to pay the high prices for used copies.

    Good to see they’re back in print now.

    (And so not a book I’d expect to see reviewed here on DA, but that’s okay because they’re still delightful books.)

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  3. Laura Vivanco
    Jun 23, 2012 @ 11:59:31

    @Dabney: Yes, they’re children’s books but the gently satirical humour and detailed artwork mean there’s a lot in them for adults to enjoy too.

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  4. Dabney
    Jun 23, 2012 @ 12:24:10

    I’m always looking for books to buy my elementary age nephews–this looks like it might be a good choice!

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  5. Liz C.
    Jun 23, 2012 @ 13:25:15

    I loved these books as a kid; I think my favorite was “The Church Mice Spread Their Wings.” The details in the illustrations are fantastic, and like Jayne, I enjoyed identifying all of the fun, little found objects that the mice used.
    Also, Samson was such a sweet, tolerant fellow.

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  6. Barb in Maryland
    Jun 23, 2012 @ 14:30:11

    Oh how lovely. Thank you Jayne for bringing this to our attention.
    This brings to mind a favorite book of my childhood (which was back when dinosaurs walked the Earth)– Peter Churchmouse , which is also about a mouse, a cat, a parson, etc.

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  7. Jayne
    Jun 23, 2012 @ 18:21:30

    @Nicolette: I’ve reviewed a few children’s books and plan to do a few more now and then. Don’t worry, it won’t be a steady diet – just a treat here and there.

    I was faced with a similar problem of a book being out of print when I went to buy copies for a friend’s child. As wonderful as they are, I couldn’t bring myself to pay $30+ per book for the out of print copies. So when they were reissued 2 years ago, I did a review here. If you click on the “children’s fiction” tag, it should take you to a page where you can read my review of the “Zoom Trilogy.”

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  8. Jayne
    Jun 23, 2012 @ 18:24:20

    @Liz C.: The illustrations are amazing and so much fun to spend time closely examining.

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  9. Dabney
    Jun 23, 2012 @ 18:27:56

    @Jayne: I hate when those beloved books go out of print. It took me a year to track down three copies of Richard Scary’s “Busy Busy World”–the pre -1975 version–for my siblings. I’d read it to all of them and I wanted them to have it for their kids.

    I checked on Amazon for “The Church Mouse” and see it’s fairly easy to obtain. Yeah!

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  10. Jayne
    Jun 23, 2012 @ 18:28:04

    @Barb in Maryland: Oh dear, it looks like Peter’s a little more destructive than Arthur. But then if he doesn’t have anyone putting out Wensleydale cheese for him than it’s not surprising.

    Thanks for the rec – I’ll have to check this out.

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  11. Jayne
    Jun 23, 2012 @ 18:32:10

    @Dabney: And even sometimes when you find the newer versions, they’re different enough that it never quite feels like the book you knew. Still, finding some of them at all is a challenge.

    The first cover in the review is the out of print hardcover. The bottom one is – I think – the new edition. That’s Arthur in the middle standing on the box of Throat Pastilles.

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  12. Alison Stuart
    Jun 24, 2012 @ 00:46:04

    I discovered the Church Mouse books when my children were little. They became firm favourites…of course as the boys had both cats and mice as pets, they loved the stories. So glad you enjoyed its timeless lessons.
    Alison

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  13. Jayne
    Jun 24, 2012 @ 06:32:23

    @Alison Stuart: It’s easy to see why the books are such favorites and I’m definitely a convert now.

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  14. cate
    Jun 24, 2012 @ 06:54:31

    I said they were brilliant ! I’m not ashamed to admit that I have them all….Allegedly I bought them for my godchildren, but they somehow stayed in my home – funny that !
    I have a very soft spot for Humphrey(the school mouse) – and his Diary of a Church Mouse is stonkingly good.

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  15. Jayne
    Jun 24, 2012 @ 07:22:26

    @cate: Is Humphrey the one always trying to put a stick in the spokes of Arthur’s wheels? I don’t think he was named in this first book. Just referred to as “the schoolmouse.”

    And I have a shockingly high pile of children’s books in my house too…

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  16. cate
    Jun 24, 2012 @ 07:25:48

    @Jayne: Indeed he is ! He’s so delightfully pompous , Arthur’s very own bete noir !

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  17. Jayne
    Jun 24, 2012 @ 09:13:58

    @cate: I’m seeing him wearing the tiniest pair of pince-nez and being played by the murine equivalent of Richard Haydn.

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  18. Dabney
    Jun 24, 2012 @ 10:06:23

    If you love mice, there’s a wonderful children’s book by Phoebe Gilman called Something from Nothing. It’s the story of a little Jewish boy who begins with a beloved blanket which, as it falls apart over time, his grandfather remakes for him as other things: a vest, a tie, a button. All the scraps of fabric fall to the bottom of the page where, underneath the house, a family of mice live. Their lives, complete with births, dinners, and reupholstering, are improved every time a new bit of the ex-blanket falls through the floorboards. It’s a magical book.

    http://www.amazon.com/Something-From-Nothing-Phoebe-Gilman/dp/0590472801/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1340550082&sr=8-1&keywords=something+from+nothing

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  19. Susan
    Jun 25, 2012 @ 13:18:33

    Oh, Jayne! I LOVED these books when I was younger (not a child). I think/hope I still have all of them in storage. The illustrations and stories are so delightful. It’s a wonderful treat to see a review–and here, of all places–after all these years. Thank you.

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  20. Nicolette
    Jun 28, 2012 @ 08:11:05

    @Jayne: Thanks for the recommendation of Zoom. I ordered it from Amazon and it arrived yesterday. My 3.5 year old son has persuaded me to read it to him, all 100 pages, three times since it arrived, and is currently begging for a 4th reread.

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  21. Jayne
    Jun 28, 2012 @ 12:59:45

    @Nicolette: Fantastic! I’m clapping my hands in delight. Zoom is such a sweetie, so polite and well mannered. I’m glad your son likes him so much and I hope you don’t get sick of reading the books after the 356th time. ;)

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