The Church Cat Abroad – Graham Oakley

More in the Series – The Church Mice
“More in the Series” scores the other books in a series where one (or more) of the books have made it into the 1001 Books list. Mostly because I’m a bit of a completionist. 

POINTS: 3 out of 10.

Bechdel: 0 point
Variety of characters: 1 point
Good story:  2 points
Discretionary ideological points: 0 points.

I really liked the first book in this series, and, while this one does have some of the same charm, I think it falls slightly short of its predecessor. Still, it was fun to read.

There are no named female characters, so no way for it to pass the Bechdel. There are a couple of black kids in the illustration at the zoo, so I’ve given it a point for that (just because, as I’ve said before, showing any kind of diversity puts it ahead of the pack, alas). But for the most part this book is all Anglo-Saxon male, pretty much. The main characters are all animals, true, but they’re all very ‘default British male’ characters, nonetheless.

Still, it has its charms. Sampson, the cat, and his friends Arthur and Humphrey, the mice, decide to become actors to try and make enough money to fix the leaky vestry roof so that they don’t get rained on any more. They end up on a rollicking adventure to a South Seas island, get left behind, have to fool some scientists into thinking they are rare animals to get back to England, and then have to escape from the zoo to get home. It’s quite entertaining, and has all the humour (some of it definitely aimed at the adult reader) of the original.

I didn’t find it quite as perfectly executed as the first book, but it is still a charming, neat little story.

The Church Mouse – Graham Oakley

POINTS: 3 out of 10.

Bechdel: 0 points
Variety of characters: 0 points
Good story:  2 points
Discretionary ideological points: 1 point.

I liked this book a lot more than I expected to. I was expecting a relatively twee British cat and mouse tale, but what I got was something witty and funny and really pretty marvellous.

Unfortunately it still fails all the metrics – no named female characters at all, let alone ones who speak, and not a person of colour in sight.

The story is not particularly original – the mice make a deal with the parson that they will help out in the church in exchange for being allowed to live there safely. The congregation find out and get rather upset about it. The mice foil a church burglary where the burglar was going to steal some much beloved candlesticks. The people see the error of their ways, everyone becomes friends and they all live happily ever after.

The thing that makes this book so enjoyable is that it pulls off something only the very best children’s picture books do – it engages the child (mine was entranced) while being peppered with enough jokes and nods to the adult reader that it’s also fun to read. I am particularly fond of the schoolmouse who is always trying to be clever, because let’s face it, we all know that guy. 😉

The jokes are delivered in a totally straight-faced narrative voice, so that I kept having to stop to chuckle, and C would say, “What’s funny, Mommy?” and I’d realise how hard it would be to explain to a five year old why it was funny that some people only come to church to check that the candlesticks are still there, and we’d move on.

Despite its low score, I’d still recommend it. It is a remarkably well-written little tale, and if you like dry subtle humour and your kids like animal tales, it will probably become a favourite.