11 August 2007

Lost Treasures--The Church Mice books by Graham Oakley

One of the many joys of my job as a librarian is, of course, the opportunity to work with books. Although every book is sacred, to borrow a phrase from Monty Python, there are times when I have to do what's known as weeding--get rid of old, dirty, and (sadly) unread books. Weeding hurts but, like digging out a splinter, is necessary (and, like the laundry, seemingly never ending!) Who wants to borrow a filthy book that looks like it's contagious--and I don't mean with the love of learning. Some books are worn out because they are so popular and have been read and adored by countless patrons. These are pulled out with a clean conscience, safe in the knowledge that they are books which have served their purpose and had a satisfying book existence. You order a new copy. All is right with the universe.

Then there are those books that have been loved to pieces, and really need to be replaced, but--oh no!--they are out of print. What to do? There are only so many times you can glue and tape and recover and rebind a book before it really has to go. At that point you pray to the book gods that someone in their right mind will see fit to reissue that book, so that such difficult decisions need never have to be made again.

The Church Mice books are just the sort of books I am talking about. PLEASE! Somebody reissue them!

If you have not yet read the Church Mice books--quick!--get yourself to your local library and look for them, before they fall apart from years of love and have to be withdrawn. Because I guarantee these books have not been sitting on the shelf ignored for the last thirty years. The inaugural volume, The Church Mouse, tells the story of Arthur and Sampson, a mouse and a ginger tabby cat who live in the vestry at St. John's Church, Wortlethorpe, England. They are soon joined by every mouse in the city. Despite the fact that cat and mouse are mortal enemies, they are all good friends, because Sampson has listened to so many sermons about brotherly love that he would never dream of harming the mice--although it is just such a dream which nearly proves to be the rodents' undoing in one of the many hilarious, detailed picture sequences later in the book. These books are jam packed with droll humor in one of the most successful marriages of words and images in the history of Children's Literature (I kid you not!) Picture books are so often reduced to ABC's and 123's and considered "for babies." Not so in this case! These stories are to picture books what BBC comedies are to TV. They are a joy to read and a joy to look at with more hidden treats and puzzles than a Where's Waldo anthology. The Church Mouse and its sequels elevated the craft of the picture book to a level of sublimity not often seen in the age of celebrity books and cartoon knock-offs, and if there is any justice in this world, they will be reissued sometime soon. Let the campaign start here!


Anonymous said...

When I was little I regularly checked every 'Church Mice' book out of the library, until I got too old and started to be embarassed about being seen in the childrens' section. Now I have my own baby, and one copy of "The Church Mice Adrift". I wanted to complete my collection, and was SHOCKED at how expensive they are! Ye Gads! If there is justice the publishers will do a reprinting. :)

Margaret said...

HEAR, HEAR! (I know you posted this years ago, but I just found it while looking for something about the Church Mice books, and while thinking the exact same thing.) My dad travelled a lot when I was little, and he would often bring back copies of these books for us when he returned. We have a set of maybe 6, and those are some of my most treasured possessions. I can't wait to read them to my son!

Kara Schaff Dean said...

Margaret--you will be pleased to know that Kane Miller reissued The Church Mouse in the US last year. So that at least is available in a nice new shiny edition! Hopefully the others will be reissued, soon, too. Thanks for stopping by!

Margaret said...


I've ordered two copies of The Church Mouse, AND sent an inquiry to Kane Miller to ask that they please please please reissue the rest of the set. We'll see if that works ... but thanks for alerting me!

Margaret said...

Kara -- I just discovered that Templar reissued The Church Mouse Adrift (perhaps not your favorite in the series, given your love of rats?) and The Church Mice in Action last year!!! This is such fabulous news that I had to share with someone else I knew would be as excited as I. Ordering them from most bookstores involves paying import fees, but I found a seller on Amazon who has them in the US already. Hooray!

Kara Schaff Dean said...

Huzzah! That's great news, Margaret. Thanks for sharing!

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