The Church Mice series recaptures a very British way of life through a band of adventurous mice and their loyal protector cat.
The Church Mice Spread Their Wings by Graham
Oakley. Atheneum, 1976 (first American
Edition), 34 pages.
Picture Book, ages 8-10
This is the fourth in a
series published from 1972-2000—without question, my kids’ favorite picture
books. In the first volume (The Church Mouse), a single mouse named Arthur
takes up residence in Wortlethorpe Church, in a gently-worn parish of rural
England. Fortunately for him, Samson the
church cat has taken a vow of non-aggression against mice, so the two rub along
well enough until Arthur invites a few friends to come and live with him
(including Humphrey the know-it-all schoolmouse). But as we all know, there’s no such thing as
a “few mice,” so before long an entire colony is living in the walls and
churchyard and Samson can do nothing about it.
Through subsequent volumes he’s their protector as they get into all
kinds of predicaments provoked by Arthur’s naiveté and Humphrey’s ignorant
In Spread Their Wings, Humphrey decides everyone needs to spend time
in nature, so Samson escorts them to the park, where they catch a ride on a
broken plank and imagine they’ve washed up in India. A sweltering trek through
the Sahara (alias Wortlethorpe Sand & Gravel Co) follows, then a fortuitous
piece of driftwood takes them across the Mediterranean. By then night is coming on, but they are a
fair way to home when the owl shows up . . .
The hardcover edition features a double-page spread of the owl swooping down on Humphrey and Arthur—a picture that literally made us gasp the first time we read it. But the mice devise a clever way of escape so everything turns out okay. In all volumes, the pictures are intricately detailed and the text is graced with understated English wit that both preschoolers and middle-graders will enjoy. Here’s the bad news: the books are long out of print. If your library doesn’t have them, the only other recourse is online, but I’ve found several copies (for some of the titles, at least) available on abebooks.com for a reasonable price.
Humphrey and Arthur try to explain why they’re in the parson’s cornflakes.Cautions: None
Overall Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)
Worldview/moral value: 4Artistic value: 5
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