*The Church Mice Series by Graham Oakley

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 a terrible thing happens . . .

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: 4
  • Artistic value: 5

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Janie Cheaney

Janie is the VERY senior staff writer for Redeemed Reader, as well as a long-time contributor to WORLD Magazine and an author of nine books for children. The rest of the time she's long-distance smooching on her four grandchildren (not an easy task). She lives with her equally senior husband of almost-fifty years in the Ozarks of Missouri.

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3 Comments

  1. Carol Bier on June 16, 2019 at 8:21 am

    We discovered them at our local library. (in the 80s) My husband read them to the children and years ago I managed to buy them from here and there We may have a complete set. Don’t forget Hetty and Harriet – about two hens – same author. I think my favorite is when the mice go to the moon. I think. They’re all just super!

  2. Leo on December 16, 2021 at 8:18 am

    It’s a shame these books are out of print. I used to love them as a kid and picked a couple of used copies up online recently. They did not disappoint for me. The drawings are beautiful and very detailed. They’re full of humour, some of which I was aware of as a kid but also quite a bit of dry English wit in there, which passed me by at the time but made me laugh as an adult.

    For instance, the placards protesting against council expenditure on a rocket to the moon, in “The Church Mice and the Moon”.

    • Janie Cheaney on December 17, 2021 at 3:51 am

      Yes–it pays to look at the details. I collected several used copies and passed them on to my grown children for THEIR kids–but I really wanted to keep them for myself!

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