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.
Reading Level: Picture Book, ages 8-10
Recommended for: ages 5-up
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 bravado.
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.
Overall Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)
- Worldview/moral value: 4
- Artistic value: 5