Wednesday, July 25, 2007

mouse extinction

for me a sign of a good party is that books are a popular topic of conversation. on saturday, with almost a quarter of the guests under the age of eight and all of the guests connected to the 'care and feeding' of children in some manner of speaking, a good bit of our book chatter pertained to children's books. h relayed a story about a favorite childhood book of hers which had gone out of print. although she found a copy through an internet bookselling site and longed to add the book to her family's library, it was a bit too expensive. imagine her delight when the next time an opportunity for gifts came, her husband surprised her by with a copy of this most treasured book from her childhood.

the talk of out-of-print children's books started me thinking of graham oakley's marvelous church mice books. since the party was at my house, I ran into the house and hauled outside my horde and conducted a brief show and tell and probably created a new group of fans. in total there are twelve books in the church mice series (alas I am missing the last of the books the church mice take a break, published in 2000 in the UK and quickly out of print.)

if you are uninitiated to these books, the series tells of the adventures (and more often the misadventures) of arthur and humphrey, and the 200 other mice, who along with sampson, the church cat, live in the anglican church of saint john in the small, charming village of worthlethorpe, england. oakley began his series in 1972 with the introduction of the church mouse. I discovered the church mice books in the early 1980s through our next door neighbor and friend hank. at the time, hank was also the parent of a small child and he was also the proprietor the foundry booksellers. the thing about hank was his uncanny ability to connect his friends and patrons to books and authors. hank was probably responsible for setting up my lifetime passion for these whimsical and delightful tales and maybe he's even responsible for contributing to my affinity for small furry rodents. unfortunately, like the church mice books, the foundry is now extinct. fortunately hank isn't.

I find it outrageous that these books have gone out of print given how beautifully illustrated and wittily written they are. does anyone have any idea about how to go about bringing the church mice books back from extinction? if so let me know! also if you have a copy of 'the church mice take a break' I'd love to make a deal, unfortunately, unless I win the lotto, I can't afford any of the books I found via the internet.

In a busy little town, not very far away, there is a church and in the church there lived a mouse whose name was Arthur. Arthur liked living in a church. For one thing, he was very fond of music, particularly if it was loud.

Also, if the verger had filled the font, he could go and mess about in his boat, or practice the crawl, if the weather was warm enough.

But he liked it best because it was safe. Sampson, the church cat had listened to so many sermons about the meek being blessed and everybody really being brothers that he had grown quite frighteningly meek and treated Arthur just like a brother.

But sometimes Arthur got a bit depressed.

One reason for this was his diet. All he ever had to eat were sweets the boys dropped during choir practice. You might say, that it wouldn't make you depressed, but you are not a mouse. It made Arthur fat and bilious and it didn't do his teeth any good either.

But worst of all, he was lonely, for in the whole of that church there was not one other mouse, and when he felt like having a chat, Sampson always seemed to be having one of his little day-long naps.

Then one afternoon, when he was reading, an idea popped into his head, and....

the adventures begin!


Dumdad said...

You and your mice!

(me too)

L.M.Noonan said...

They are fabulous stories with even better illustrations. I used to have most of them, certainly all of my boys have read and reread them starting with my now 35 year old. I'm shocked that they are out of print because there's nothing 'dated about them. They haven't stopped printing Beatrix Potter's works... everytime I read one of the churchmice books I also thought that he must have spent a very LNG time just observing these creatures. I have a ginger tom who is the churchcat's doppleganger.

mouse (aka kimy) said...

dd - yep! I got your number ;)-- expect we'd both have houses brimming with a sorts of critters (if we don't already)
lmn-I have a terrible weakness for orange cats, one of my best cats was a ginger tom. it is shocking that these wonderful books have gone out of print. perhaps I'll write a letter to mr. oakley (seeing he's still alive although I expect retired) and ask him why or why???? it's very hard to find libraries here with copies - maybe one or two, but not the whole series. in hunting for 'the church mice take a break' according to some global library search engine, there are no u.s. libraries that carry it, but there is a library in toronto with a copy - I wonder if they'd cooperate in inter-library loan!

lettuce said...

oh we love the church mice in our house too! tho i never saw that last "take a break" one, i must look out for it.

Adam said...

Very interesting - I never knew that they had become such cult collectors items. I'll have to see which ones I have at home, but I'm pretty sure we wouldn't have anything as recent as the 'take a break' story.