Books by Dick King-Smith

CLEVER DUCK by Dick King-Smith
ANIMALS
Released: Oct. 1, 2008

Damaris the duck lives up to her eponymous epithet in this barnyard adventure, which features, in addition to this resourceful fowl, her canine friend and the farm's supercilious swine. These haughty hogs hope to belittle Damaris by asking her the definition of "ignoramus," but the intelligent bird cannot be stumped. "If you don't know what an ignoramus is, then you must be one," is her swift reply. Showcasing her erudition, however, brings her no comfort; this duck seeks revenge on the pompous pigs. Damaris and dog Rory lure the pigs out of their pen, and their outdoor escapade wreaks havoc. The hungry hogs overindulge in sugary beets, leaving the results of their messy stomachaches behind, and scheming Mr. Crook captures the pigs. Damaris, feeling responsible for the group's misfortune, risks her life and wings to return the hogs to their rightful home. Bruel's black-and-white drawings highlight the animals' mischievous antics, though it is the hilarious and pretentious boar leader, "Firingclose General Lord Nicholas of Winningshot," who epitomizes the fun in this farm frenzy. (Fantasy. 7-10) Read full book review >
THE MOUSE FAMILY ROBINSON by Dick King-Smith
ANIMALS
Released: Aug. 1, 2008

The Robinson family and their neighbor, Mr. Brown, all mice, live under the kitchen floor under the constant threat of the house cat. Old Mr. Brown lost his wife to that cat, but the mice must continue to risk their lives in search of food. That is, until a young and adventurous member of the Robinson clan, Beaumont, comes up with a plan to move the whole family, including Mr. Brown. Using their noses to sniff out houses without cats, they find a house that smells strongly of mice and know they have found the perfect fit—in fact, the "giant" boy keeps mice as pets. In their new home, the Robinsons discover new companions, welcome more babies and cope with losing a dear friend. Through simple prose King-Smith creates a narrative based not on the plot of The Swiss Family Robinson but on the life lessons both displaced families learn. Bruel's gray-toned illustrations add charm and interest throughout this short but complete story. An appealing animal adventure for those ready to graduate from early readers. (Fantasy. 7-10)Read full book review >
THE TWIN GIANTS by Dick King-Smith
CHILDREN'S
Released: June 1, 2008

Two bachelor giants set out in search of wives in this droll and handsomely presented offering. Except that one's a vegetarian and one's not, Normus and Lottavim ("There's a-lot-uv-'im!" said his mother at first gander) are as close as twins can be—so one day, they simultaneously get the idea that it's time for marriage. They split up, deciding that they'll have better luck if they look separately, and this allows for plenty of comical conversations as they approach the same candidates at different times. Printed on heavy, very white paper, the generously leaded text and Grey's witty color illustrations—which feature both maps and loudly dressed giants obliviously striding past tiny, quizzical livestock and beleaguered villagers—have an appealing brightness and feel. Ultimately the two meet their matches in twins Georgie and Alexandra—and in time, each happy couple goes on to produce twins. Pity the aforesaid villagers. Recent early-reader graduates with a taste for the tongue-in-cheek will enjoy this amiable episode. (Fantasy. 8-10)Read full book review >
UNDER THE MISHMASH TREES by Dick King-Smith
CHILDREN'S
Released: May 1, 2008

Another short, cozy animal (to use the term loosely) tale from the master of same. Here a polite, peaceable "slobbadunk" named Tumblerum Wollycobble—portrayed in Bruel's many scenes and spots as a purple glob with blubbery lips and one big eye—forms a long association with married couple Og and Ut and their offspring, who are many-legged "gombrizils." So grateful is Tum after Ut (the wife and, of course, the brains of the couple) cures its rumbustious digestion by adding meat (in the form of fat "swoots") to its vegetarian diet and performs other favors, that it volunteers to tend both her own egg and the two that her daughter Okay lays years afterward. That's about it for plot, but the names are so silly, and Bruel does such a masterful job of depicting the blobby cast (in spots the gombrizils look like proto-Simpsons) that early-reader graduates can't help but break out in giggles. (Fantasy. 7-9)Read full book review >
DINOSAUR TROUBLE by Dick King-Smith
CHILDREN'S
Released: March 1, 2008

Replacing his usual stock of farm animals with an older, more primitive cast, King-Smith pits families of Pterodactyls and Apatosaurs against a predatory T. rex. After ignoring the species prejudice of their parents to strike up a friendship, leather-winged newborn Nosy and hulking Banty (short for "Bantamweight," which she is when compared to her mother and father) come up with a daring plan to drive toothy Hack the Ripper out of the area. Their intellectually pretentious Moms and dimwitted Dads are initially reluctant but eventually agree to pitch in—and it all works out even better than expected. In Bruel's frequent cartoon scenes and vignettes, the players display a supple solidity as they smile, scowl or look confused according to their assigned roles. The unusual setting and mild suspense of this celebration of interspecies cooperation will draw in recent easy-reader graduates. The addition of multi-syllabic dinosaur names and Latinate vocabulary words add extra appeal. (Fantasy. 8-10)Read full book review >
HAIRY HEZEKIAH by Dick King-Smith
ANIMALS
Released: Aug. 1, 2007

Another amiable animal ramble from King-Smith—this one featuring a lonely Bactrian camel who breaks out of a Somerset zoo to look for a pal. Lipping open the latch to his cage, Hezekiah ambles through the closed zoo for chats with the lions and chimps, fills up on water in the men's restroom and then (thanks to a notably inattentive zookeeper) sallies forth into the countryside, leaving chaos behind him as he plows through hedges and fences. At last, a conversation with some cows brings his quest to an end; directed to a local game park, he bonds with the animal-loving Earl who owns it, and hooks up with species-mate Hephzibah. "I do like happy endings!" exclaims the Earl. Hezekiah doesn't have the vivid personality, nor the adventures of Star Livingstone's llama Harley (2001), illustrated by Molly Bang, and doesn't show much character in Bruel's bland cartoons. Still, this low-key comedy will please newly independent readers. (Fantasy. 8-10)Read full book review >
THE CATLADY by Dick King-Smith
ANIMALS
Released: Jan. 10, 2006

To the few cat stories in King-Smith's stable, this latest poses a new dimension and meaning to the term "nine lives." Almost every community has one—the elderly spinster with a household overrun with cats. Whenever a new litter is born, Miss Ponsonby stares into their eyes to figure out if the cat is a cat or a reincarnation of a person. She believes that her parents, friends and cousins have all reappeared in feline form. To her surprise and delight, when she peers into the eyes of a ginger female born on January 22, 1901, she gasps: The cat is the queen—Queen Victoria. The rest is pure melodrama: Mary Nutt, orphan, becomes the Catlady's aide; Miss P. becomes bedridden and dies, leaving her house to the Royal Society for the Protection of Cats, with living privileges for Mary. Naturally, she returns as a cat. Black-and-white line sketches litter the pages but disappoint due to the appealing color cover. King-Smith fans won't find this a cuddly animal tale: The cats don't speak human language and the dependence of the story on the belief of reincarnation may provoke questions that adults are uncomfortable answering. (Fiction 7-10)Read full book review >
THE GOLDEN GOOSE by Dick King-Smith
ANIMALS
Released: March 8, 2005

A failing farmer's fortune changes when Joy, literally, comes into his life. Hatched to a pair of seemingly ordinary geese named Misery and Sorrow, the golden-yellow gosling quickly earns her uplifting moniker, for not only do Farmer Skint and his family get an immediate rush of pleasure from petting her, but suddenly money starts rolling in from lottery and race-track winnings. In no time, the Skints, and their Woebegone Farm, are back in business. Kronheimer's relaxed pen-and-ink drawings depict a smiling young rural family and a small but self-confident-looking goose who takes up residence in the farmhouse until it's time to lay eggs (golden ones, to be sure) of her own. Aside from a fox's brief and fatal walk-on, there isn't much tension in the plot, but readers in search of farmyard tales featuring naturalistically rendered animals, good-hearted humans, hints of magic and, for good measure, a whiff of metaphor, will come away happy. (Fiction. 9-11)Read full book review >
THE NINE LIVES OF ARISTOTLE by Dick King-Smith
ANIMALS
Released: Sept. 1, 2003

A bold, young cat uses up his fund of lives at a great rate in this appealingly presented animal tale. Deciding that a white familiar might be a nice change, Bella Donna the witch brings Aristotle home to her comfy cottage—only to see him come plunging down the chimney after an exploration of the thatched roof (there's one life gone), then shortly thereafter out of a tall tree into a rushing stream (two more). Other misadventures ensue, including close encounters with a train, a truck, and, repeatedly, with a fierce dog named Gripper. Graham illustrates this square-format chapter book with country scenes, done in fine lines and neutral toned washes, featuring a motherly witch and a small, generally surprised or confused looking feline. By the end, Gripper's one life has passed, but Aristotle, having "lost" eight in growing up, is making his final one last. Infused with sentiment that never boils over into sentimentality, this should be popular with recent Easy Reader grads. (Fiction. 7-9)Read full book review >
CLEVER LOLLIPOP by Dick King-Smith
ANIMALS
Released: Aug. 1, 2003

Princess Penelope and her pig Lollipop are learning to read. Since Johnny, the intelligent and affable pig trainer from the first installment, cannot read either, the solution is obvious. Both princess and trainer will have a governess. When Miss Thistle doesn't work out, Lollipop gets sick from eating a poisonous plant, and a miracle is needed; in steps Collie Cob, the conjuror, to save the day. Turns out, he knows more than veterinary medicine, and he teaches the whole family just what they need. Now that Penelope (called Penny by her new eccentric teacher) is no longer a spoiled brat, the story lacks some of the tension that characterized the first in the series. However, Barton's winsome pictures bring life to the story. The final illustrations promise many adventures to come as readers see a surprised Penny with proud new-mama Lollipop. Another fine choice for chapter-book readers. (Fiction. 7-10)Read full book review >
TITUS RULES! by Dick King-Smith
ANIMALS
Released: Jan. 14, 2003

King-Smith's (Chewing the Cud, p. 1312, etc.) animal tales usually leap over the Atlantic with ease, but not this time. Poking affectionate fun at Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, the author looks at their relationship through the eyes of Titus, one of the Queen's ten corgis. Never referring to his royal mistress as anything other than "the servant," Titus learns proper behavior from his mum ("Our servant she may be, but it's important to treat servants right if you want them to look after you well"), earns a place on the Queen's lap after nabbing a jewel thief, then on her very bed after heading off a flood (Philip falls asleep in his tub, leaving the taps on), and a cigarette-caused fire. In frequent hatched-ink sketches, Eastwood mingles recognizable Royals with stubby, confident-looking canines. American readers will admire Titus for his courage and cleverness, but the lèse-majesté humor of repeatedly catching Philip in undignified circumstances or listening to him and "Madge" (short for "Majesty") bicker over the domestic menagerie doesn't carry the same resonance on this side of the pond. A near-miss. (Fiction. 9-11)Read full book review >
CHEWING THE CUD by Dick King-Smith
ANIMALS
Released: Oct. 8, 2002

A memoir from a beloved chronicler of the barnyard reveals a vast experience with his subject matter, and a huge capacity for self-deprecation. Lovers of King-Smith's (Funny Frank, 2001, etc.) vividly realized animal characters will enjoy meeting his many real-life animals, from Kicker, a cow so named because she, "like a professional footballer, practiced the art for her own sake"; through Anna, a dachshund who "must have had a very long bladder because, in wet weather, which she abhorred, she would lie doggo for twenty-four hours"; to Snowballs, a Muscovy duck who "was the grand seigneur of a large harem of females . . . and his mission in life was a simple one, namely to pass on his genes." No proper memoir of farming life can get very far away from the earthiness of animal husbandry, and this one fairly revels in the specifics of the maintenance and procreation of its various creatures. In structure, it skips about, seemingly randomly, from youth to courtship and marriage to reminiscences of his grandparents while all the while returning over and over to the heart of the matter—the farm. The vignettes of farm life are frequently hilarious, the evocations of the post-war period are nostalgic but not sentimental, and the author's descriptions of his marriage are truly touching. The overall effect of this offering is to make the reader feel as if she has just had a long, rambling chat with an enormously affable older gentleman—which is just about exactly what the author is. With a primary focus on adult concerns—work, finances, marital and parental relations—this may prove a disappointment to children hoping to read stories of a real-life Babe, but for readers of all ages who may find fascinating a portrait of a way of life that has gone by, it is a real gem. (Autobiography. 10+)Read full book review >
LADY LOLLIPOP by Dick King-Smith
ANIMALS
Released: June 1, 2001

The author of Babe, the Gallant Pig (1985) offers another winner with this tale of a bright pig and her canny young keeper "training" a spoiled princess. When Princess Penelope demands a pig for her eighth birthday, her over-indulgent father requires every pig keeper in the country to assemble with a likely porcine candidate. The princess settles on Lollipop, who turns out to be the sole possession of penniless orphan Johnny Skinner. As only Johnny can get Lollipop to sit, roll over, or poop outdoors, soon lad and pig are comfortably ensconced together in a royal stall—at least until the pig can be persuaded to respond to the Princess's commands. It's only the beginning of a meteoric rise for Johnny, and for Lollipop too, as the two conspire to teach the princess civilized manners, and end up great favorites of the entire royal family. Barton (Rattletrap Car, p. 504, etc.) captures Penelope's fuming, bratty character perfectly in a generous array of line drawings, and gives Lollipop an expression of affectionate amusement that will win over readers as effortlessly as it wins over the princess and her parents. Move over, Wilbur. (Fiction. 8-10)Read full book review >
BILLY THE BIRD by Dick King-Smith
ANIMALS
Released: May 1, 2001

King-Smith's (The Roundhill, 2000, etc.) reliable fantasies usually focus on an animal with a special talent: a green mouse, an alien rabbit, and of course, that famously chatty, sheep-herding pig. His latest fantasy adventure features a boy with an unusual talent: four-year-old Billy Bird, who can fly like a . . . well, like a bird, of course—although only when the moon is full. The story is narrated by Billy's eight-year-old sister, Mary, who has an unusual ability of her own (she can converse with her guinea pig, Mr. Keylock, and her wise, elderly cat Lilyleaf). Mary and her pets keep Billy's monthly flying a secret, and the only real excitement occurs when Billy scares off a cat burglar who is climbing the ivy of their house. The premise is intriguing, and the animal characters have some appeal, but the story fails to get off the ground for a truly captivating flight of fancy. Because the story is told from Mary's viewpoint, we never experience what Billy feels as he flies, and he can't remember himself once he lands back in his own bed. The format of short chapters, large type size, and interspersed full-paged illustrations is suited to readers moving into chapter books, but there isn't really enough action or humor here for most kids. (Fiction. 8-10)Read full book review >
GEORGE SPEAKS by Dick King-Smith
CHILDREN'S
Released: April 1, 2001

This literary equivalent of the Look Who's Talking films, originally published in 1988, sees its first American edition. "I wasn't born yesterday, you know." That's George—who was actually born four weeks ago—talking to his astonished big sister Laura in this whimsical account of child prodigy-hood run amok. Unable to keep quiet, George is soon ordering his dazzled parents around, drilling Laura in her times tables, and, ultimately, going public at his first birthday with a polite thank-you speech to a circle of open-mouthed relatives. All the while, he's struggling to get out of diapers as soon as possible and to develop enough coordination to hold a pencil. Brown's ink drawings, all deceptively normal-looking domestic scenes, add to the tongue-in-cheek air. In the end, Laura asks George what he wants to be when he grows up: Prime Minister? ("That wouldn't get my vote.") Judge? ("The verdict is no.") Explorer? ("No way.")—"When I grow up, I'm going to write funny stories for children." Good choice. (Fiction. 9-11)Read full book review >
FUNNY FRANK by Dick King-Smith
ANIMALS
Released: March 1, 2001

A misfit chick achieves his heart's desire only to outgrow it, in King-Smith's (Lady Lollipop, 2001, etc.) latest barnyard charmer. Frank's karma differs from that of his seven newly hatched brothers and sisters, for from the very beginning he yearns to swim with the ducks. Seeing this, his young, human guardian Jemima Tabb enlists adult aid, and soon Frank—so dubbed for his call, which is mid-way between a cheep and a quack—is clad in a little wetsuit crafted from an old hot-water bottle, and zooming about the pond on rubber-glove flippers. But though Frank is accepted by the ducklings (" ‘Love your gear, man! It's cool!' "), and even saves his mother by startling a fox, he still feels like an outsider. As in the story, humans and animals mingle freely in loosely drawn ink sketches, showing the same distress, concern, confusion, and joy. Ultimately, Frank blithely demonstrates that it was all a phase by quickly shedding his swimming gear when a pretty new pullet arrives. Parents of wayward children may be reassured, but for younger readers of independent stripe, the message here seems more than a little condescending. Still, it is a story about a chicken in a wetsuit, as only King-Smith could conceive. (Fiction. 8-10)Read full book review >
THE ROUNDHILL by Dick King-Smith
ADVENTURE
Released: Nov. 1, 2000

A solitary teenager discovers some distinguished company sharing his private place in this beguilingly matter-of-fact ghost story. The Cotswolds hilltop visible from Evan's bedroom window has always been special to him, but never so much as after the day he climbs up to survey the surrounding countryside and finds a child with antique dress and manners sitting next to him. Her name is Alice, she says, before vanishing as mysteriously as she came. Being reasonably well-read, he recognizes her almost immediately—as readers will, if not from her description, then from Bailey's Tenniel-style illustrations. She returns on subsequent days, to borrow his binoculars, play croquet (with wooden mallets), and make odd, past-tense pronouncements. Before bidding him goodbye, she tells him that she once stayed in the room that is now his, and also loved the hilltop. King-Smith ends on a warmly sentimental note, fast-forwarding more than six decades to a scene in which Evan, now an old man, takes his 12-year-old granddaughter up the hill to tell her about the encounter. Aside from its literary pleasures, this perfect little jewel of a tale will prompt readers to think about the places that are special in their own lives. (Fiction. 10-13)Read full book review >
MYSTERIOUS MISS SLADE by Dick King-Smith
ANIMALS
Released: June 1, 2000

The author of Spider Sparrow (2000) again looks to society's margins, chronicling the growth of an unlikely friendship between a seedy, solitary septuagenarian and a newly arrived young family. Maggie Slade has a patch on one eye (relic of a Guy Fawkes Day accident), lives in a shabby caravan without electricity or running water, and is widely regarded by local children as a witch. Too new in the village to have been warned off, young Patsy and Jim Reader wander by and, once they get used to the barnyard reek that hangs about Maggie and her property, have a delightful visit. Even the children's wary parents are soon disarmed by her sweet, gracious manner. King-Smith makes it clear that Maggie lives the way she does not from necessity—in fact, she turns out to be a baron's daughter, with a churn full of pound notes and gold sovereigns buried out back—but by choice. In Kronheimer's frequent pen-and-ink illustrations, her content shines out beneath her raffish exterior. Still, meeting the Readers prompts her to see at last how far she's let herself go, and her conscientious new friends prove to be johnnys-on-the-spot, first when she takes a nasty spill, then when a would-be robber pays a call. The climactic bits give shape to the story, but it hardly needs it: with a donkey to ride, plenty of playful dogs and cats, and a neverending supply of chips and cookies, Maggie makes a neighbor almost any child would love to have. (Fiction. 10-12)Read full book review >
SPIDER SPARROW by Dick King-Smith
Released: March 1, 1999

Charlie Muffin, a mouse farmer, taxidermist, and tinkerer, finds his calm, orderly existence in turmoil when Merry Day, a high-spirited, determined young lady, challenges him to breed a green mouse. He's fallen in love with her at first sight, so he gives it a try, certain he is doomed to failure. When he succeeds they get married, and honeymoon by entering the green mouse in a championship show. Filled with King-Smith's trademark gentle wit, this story is reminiscent of Roald Dahl's Esio Trot, without the slapstick. Charlie is an adult who will appeal to children, with his silly inventions and that somewhat macabre hobby of stuffing dead animals. The love story is delightfully satisfying. (Fiction. 10-12) Read full book review >
GODHANGER by Dick King-Smith
CHILDREN'S
Released: Feb. 1, 1999

Fans of King-Smith's light, wry animal stories (The Spotty Pig, 1997, etc.) will be shocked by this brutal Christian allegory. The creatures of Godhanger Wood go about, as is their nature, feeding on the helpless and unwary, keeping an eye out for the hunter ironically dubbed "the gamekeeper." Meanwhile, on a great cedar of Lebanon perches the golden-feathered Skymaster, dispensing wisdom and cryptic warnings to the 12 birds who have been drawn to listen. Opening with a rabbit doe's grisly death at the hands (literally) of the gamekeeper, the slaughter continues until, ultimately, the Skymaster is gunned down, to hang on a cross-shaped gibbet, just as the gamekeeper's other trophies have; although an old raven later sees the Skymaster ascend heavenward, the implied promise is less likely to make an impression on readers than the ugly events leading up to it. Rendered with detail and drama reminiscent of Audubon's, Davidson's accomplished black-and-white wildlife portraits ennoble their animal subjects, and effectively capture the dark, tone of this radical change of pace from a popular, author. (Fiction. 11-13) Read full book review >
THE WATER HORSE by Dick King-Smith
CHILDREN'S
Released: Sept. 1, 1998

Searching for treasure washed up by a fierce coastal storm, eight-year-old Kirstie discovers a strange looking package-shaped object with long tendrils poking out from each of its four corners. When it hatches overnight, she finds herself the proud but puzzled keeper of what her grandfather identifies as a water horse—a sea creature of mythic stature, with a gentle nature but a ravenous appetite. What can the family do with a pet that grows rapidly from a scant six inches to more than fifteen feet? It may not be possible to find a permanent home for Crusoe—as he is named—where he is safe as well as happy. King-Smith's obvious belief in the power of care and compassion informs this genial tale told from both the human and sea monster's perspectives; it's not one of his strongest stories, but will capture the fancies of his many fans. (Fiction. 8-11) Read full book review >
MARTIN'S MICE by Jez Alborough
Released: Feb. 9, 1998

Another beguiling farmyard drama from the author, most recently, of The Fox-Busters (p. 1605/C-213). Martin, a kitten, catches mice with instinctive ease but is revolted by the idea of consuming them. Despite his siblings' contempt and his mother's asperity concerning his prospects, he not only abstains from hunting but secretly adopts a mouse, Drusilla, as a pet, keeping her in an old bathtub. Drusilla, who is pregnant and soon gives birth, is at first alarmed, then indignant; still, she makes the best of her situation, bossing Martin in a motherly way and even getting him to bring her a mate. The mice finally escape, and Martin gets a taste of what their experience has been like when he also becomes a house pet. In his turn, he escapes and returns to the farm, a wiser and more self-reliant cat. King-Smith has an unerring sense of animal nature, providing a solid basis for the charmingly logical development of his fantasies. Each of his beasts, from stolid cow to irascibly overintelligent pig, is a comic caricature of its kind as well as of human nature. Childlike Martin is appropriately naive in his belief that he can own another creature, and his dad's growing pride in his pluck and independence is neatly drawn; Martin's realization that no one should be shut up, and his renewed friendship with Drusilla (now free), make just the right conclusion. A lively read-aloud, studded with chuckles and surprises. Read full book review >
PUPPY LOVE by Dick King-Smith
CHILDREN'S
Released: Oct. 1, 1997

The pair that collaborated on I Love Guinea Pigs (1995) teams up again on a universally appealing subject, rendered quite personal by King-Smith. "I especially love puppies," he states, and it shows: All kinds of puppies in all manner of poses and settings accompany his descriptions of his experiences with them: Humphrey, a Great Dane; a slew of dachshunds lolling in the house of a dog breeder; a German shepherd named Fly. In the explanations of behavior and care, King-Smith provides homey details that Jeram puts to good use, creating a cozy backyard scene that expresses a puppy's lack of balance beautifully, or many small scenes on a spread, e.g., a bulletin board with snapshots of puppies. Jeram excels in showing her subjects from a puppy's-eye view, and in capturing their awkwardly lovable postures. This tender guide is educational, humorous, and irresistible—like puppies. (Picture book. 4-8)Read full book review >
THE SPOTTY PIG by Dick King-Smith
CHILDREN'S
Released: April 21, 1997

From King-Smith (The Stray, 1996, etc.), the story of a spotty pig, Peter, who thinks his spots are ugly and says so to his friend, Joe, a cat. Peter embarks on a series of unsuccessful attempts to rid himself of the spots, but summer sun doesn't fade them, autumn leaves don't blur them with dirt, winter snow doesn't freeze them white, spring rains don't wash them off. Instead, Peter's spots grow larger as he does. Woe is he until he meets Penny, with all the virtues a young swain might hope for: beauty, similar interests, and spots—just imagine his elation when Penny presents him with 13 spotty piglets. Wormell's linocuts are charming, as is King-Smith's text, replete with his gently wry humor. Unfortunately, this take on the old Ugly Duckling story is without much suspense: Once Penny appears, Peter's journey to self- acceptance simply stops. (Picture book. 3-6)Read full book review >
CHILDREN'S
Released: Oct. 1, 1996

In 31 anecdotes about animals he has known, King-Smith (The Stray, p. 1237, etc.) once again proves his worth as a born storyteller. The book opens with an introduction that includes photos of King-Smith, as a child and now; the stories themselves are accompanied by absolutely charming pictures by Jeram, no newcomer to King-Smith's world (I Love Guinea Pigs, 1995). They have the appeal of cartoons while being true-to-life, whether the subject is a guinea pig, golden pheasant, chameleon, or giant tortoise. Some of the pieces in this collection are very brief—no more than a paragraph—while others run a few pages in length. Whether the stories are poignant or funny, each leaves readers satisfied—and ready for more. The volume is long enough for readers who have left picture books behind, but still manageable for younger readers who are feeling adventurous. It's classified as animal anecdotes, but don't bury it in the 590s with assignment material. (Nonfiction. 5- 10)Read full book review >
JENIUS by Dick King-Smith
CHILDREN'S
Released: Sept. 1, 1996

In a book subtitled "The Amazing Guinea Pig," Judy is determined to show everyone that guinea pigs aren't lacking in brain power. She gets her chance when her pets produce a "child of their old age." Jenius (Judy doesn't spell "correcktly") is reared to be "the best-trained, most brilliant guinea pig in the whole world," proud of his easy mastery of dog tricks and even able to unlatch his own hutch from inside (resulting in a near- fatal brush with a tomcat). His "swelled head" annoys his parents who seem preoccupied with each other and who laugh at their son when he flubs his big performance on Pet's Day. In what is meant to be a humorous parallel, Judy's parents are equally dismissive of her—"Buzz off now, there's a girl." In the end, Judy's father may have to eat his hat (and Jenius's father, a plastic water bottle) but this cleverly constructed, easy reading fantasy by King-Smith (Mr. Potter's Pet, p. 532, etc.) is not up to his best. (Fiction. 7-9)Read full book review >
THE STRAY by Dick King-Smith
CHILDREN'S
Released: Aug. 1, 1996

King-Smith (see review, above) leaves behind guinea pigs of all manner, pigs who herd sheep, and cats with pets to tell the story of a stray—not a mongrel, but a kindly, 75-year-old woman named Henrietta Hickathrift. When Henny runs away from the old-age home (with only a penny to her name), she escapes to the beach and writes "I AM A STRAY OLD WOMAN" in the sand. Discovered by five red-haired children, the Goods, she is take home and "adopted" as their housekeeper-turned-grandmother. Neither toothache nor burglary dampens the spirit and spunk of the good-natured Henny, who introduces the children to prawn-and-mayonnaise sandwiches, grows a money plant, and ultimately wins the lottery. Throughout, Parmenter provides black-and-white scenes that show these folks to be just as lovely as King-Smith says they are. In the well-known breezy style readers have come to expect, the author pens with wit and wisdom a sunny story of family and friendship in which good things come to Good people. (Fiction. 7-11)Read full book review >
SOPHIE'S LUCKY by Dick King-Smith
CHILDREN'S
Released: May 1, 1996

Sophie (Sophie in the Saddle, 1994, etc.) is back again, in what is to be the last in the series. Knowing of Sophie's love of animals and determination to be a farmer, fans of these early chapter books will be delighted to learn that she really does get a farm. After a visit to Sophie's great-great-aunt Al in Scotland (where Sophie rides the pony Lucky), the family gets the sad news that Aunt Al has died, leaving them her home and money; the farm will come to Sophie when she turns 18. This time out, Sophie's malapropisms and other aspects of the book are handled in a way that feels a little less amusing and a little more condescending than in earlier titles. Those unfamiliar with the previous titles will have trouble discerning Sophie's age; not until fairly late in the book do readers learn that she is now eight. In spite of these quibbles, this is enjoyable reading; Sophie is well on her way to living happily ever after. (Fiction. 5-9)Read full book review >
MR. POTTER'S PET by Dick King-Smith
CHILDREN'S
Released: April 15, 1996

In a short, simple chapter book, King-Smith (The School Mouse, 1995, etc.) tells the blissfully silly story of poor Mr. Potter who, after his parents are accidentally poisoned by a dinner of tinned crab on his 50th birthday, gets his first pet. Not knowing what he wants, he goes into a pet shop and comes out with a foul-tempered mynah. It turns out that the bird, who agrees to be called Everest, just wants a little freedom to fly outside his cage. The two become good friends as Everest takes charge of Mr. Potter's life. The mynah decides that Mr. Potter needs a housekeeper and contrives to find just the right lady. All are happy until Everest proposes to each of the humans on behalf of the other, and they accept. Suddenly, the two become lovebirds, and Everest feels left out. The solution to Everest's loneliness may not surprise everyone, but the tone is so lighthearted throughout the book, and the characters so charming, that no one will mind in the least. With Teague's humorous black-and-white illustrations, this is an endearing book from beginning to end, for classroom or family sharing. (Fiction. 7-10)Read full book review >
THE SCHOOL MOUSE by Dick King-Smith
ANIMALS
Released: Oct. 1, 1995

As usual, King-Smith (Harriet's Hare, 1995, etc.) gives readers a children's book that's everything it should be. Written in a warm voice that makes jokes sound like explanations, and with a sense of adventure so infectious that readers will follow the plot wherever it leads, this is a grand piece of entertainment. Flora, who lives with her family in a schoolhouse, learns to read with the kindergartners. In a string of novelistic episodes she takes her first steps toward literacy; when an exterminator leaves poison all over the school, Flora saves her parents because she can read the label. She also protects their future when she teaches them not to leave their droppings about. A family drama, romance, comic characterizations, philosophical speculations on the subject of education—it all adds up to a very happy ending. Fisher's pointed black-and-white illustrations are perfectly pitched to the sharp text. (Fiction. 7-10)Read full book review >
HARRIET'S HARE by Dick King-Smith
CHILDREN'S
Released: April 3, 1995

King-Smith's whimsical fantasy gets a science fiction twist in this story of a friendship between a girl and a vacationing extraterrestrial in the role usually assigned to a fairy godmother. Harriet, eight, has been contentedly living with her father and pony on an English farm. Then she meets a hare who likes to chat. It turns out that he is just visiting Earth and trying out various life forms, although he seems to prefer being a hare. He recognizes Harriet's need for a mother and provides one. She arrives in the form of a children's book writer who first stops at the farm for eggs and befriends both Harriet and her widower father; the latter she ultimately agrees to marry. This is another of King-Smith's quality easy chapter books, though not as compelling as Babe: The Gallant Pig or Three Terrible Trins (both Crown, 1993 and 1994). But if there is less action in this than in some of his more recent titles, the cover makes it clear that this is aimed at more thoughtful readers, who will enjoy it immensely. (Fiction. 7-10)Read full book review >
I LOVE GUINEA PIGS by Dick King-Smith
Released: March 1, 1995

Another sure-to-be-popular addition to the "Read and Wonder" series of nonfiction picture books, for which this author and illustrator created All Pigs Are Beautiful (1993). King-Smith has a genius for making even simple texts a pleasure to read; his fondness for guinea pigs gives the straight facts in this book an air of excitement. The history of their name, their place in the animal kingdom, their life cycle, their varieties, and basic care facts (they are easy to keep) are all presented, along with portraits of some of King-Smith's favorite pets. He is honest about their relatively short life span (five to eight years) but softens this by saying that he likes to look at the apple tree under which his favorite two guinea pigs are buried and think about how much he enjoyed the time they had together. Jeram's watercolor and line illustrations match the tone of the text. The pictures are clearly composed, full of pudgy pets; plenty of white space balances the text and illustrations, making this a good selection for readers who are ready to go beyond easy books, but still need an inviting format. Some facts come in the form of hand-lettered captions under spot illustrations that smoothly enhance the running text. The depiction of older children in the book will ensure that middle grade readers looking for tips on care will also find this appealing. Useful for any collection or on any shelf near fellow guinea-pig lovers. (Picture book. 4+)Read full book review >
THREE TERRIBLE TRINS by Dick King-Smith
CHILDREN'S
Released: Oct. 3, 1994

King-Smith (Sophie in the Saddle, 1994, etc.) parodies human behavior in another of his animal fantasies. In the house of irascible Farmer Budge, mouse society is literally stratified. The thrice-widowed Mrs. Gray is an exception: She has not only been married to another aristocratic Attic but also to one of the comfortable Ups and, most recently, to a plebeian Down. When portly Mr. Gray is eaten and she's left with three tiny sons, she vows to train them as "guerrilla fighters in the cause of mousedom." And with her urging, plus the help of a hearty Cellarmouse, who also wins the pretty widow and moves into the west wing of her elegant chair in the attic, the "trins" eventually oust a half-dozen cats from their domain. King-Smith's wit is unabated; his sharp characterizations, including that of old Mrs. Budge, who slips treats to the mice her husband abhors, and such details as the "M1" that's the principle mouse thoroughfare between floors, are a delight. The class divisions that are the story's basis are peculiarly British, but they aren't liable to confuse anyone. A lively comic adventure. (Fiction. 8-12)Read full book review >
SOPHIE IN THE SADDLE by Dick King-Smith
CHILDREN'S
Released: March 1, 1994

King-Smith's "determined" Sophie, who first appeared, at four, in Sophie's Snail (1989), has always been a winning character; such vicissitudes as a suburban domicile, obstreperous twin brothers, and her parents' proscriptions against pets (mellowing more with each book) have never diverted her from her goal of becoming a "lady farmer." Now nearing seven, she's right in character here, and the author's scenes are still amusing, his descriptions apt; but the events (on a farm-stay holiday, Sophie begins riding lessons) don't add up to a real plot, while Sophie's oft-reiterated characteristics receive so little new embellishment as to wear a little thin. (And there's the annoying translation of "Mum" to "Mom" — when other books are proudly introducing words from other languages by defining them by their contexts. Does multiculturalism extend only to those who don't share our mother tongue) But even second-best Sophie is better-than-average young reader fare, and Parkins's frequent drawings continue to be witty and precise. (Fiction. 5- 9)Read full book review >
THE INVISIBLE DOG by Dick King-Smith
CHILDREN'S
Released: May 3, 1993

When Janie finds the leash and collar that belonged to Rupert—a paragon of a dog who died five years ago when she was two—her parents make it clear that they're not about to replace him: only another Great Dane would do, and they're far too expensive. Janie, a sensible lass whose persistence and imagination much resemble King-Smith's Sophie's, wastes no time in argument; instead, she declares the existence of an invisible Great Dane, gets her dad involved in naming him Henry, walks him around on the old leash, and makes friends with an elderly neighbor who accepts Henry's existence with a good-humored common sense that mirrors Janie's own. In the end, a real dog is found; just as her parents are beginning to come round anyhow, Janie gets an unexpected bequest, and they find a half-grown pup with a tiny kink in his tail that gives him a bargain price. A minor effort from this reliable author, but told in his usual refreshingly brisk style and set forth in attractive, easy- looking format. (Young reader. 7-10)Read full book review >
LADY DAISY by Dick King-Smith
CHILDREN'S
Released: April 1, 1993

When the Victorian doll Ned finds in Gran's attic speaks to him, it's the beginning of an unusual friendship. As King-Smith is at pains to make clear, Ned's interests—soccer, for instance- -are traditional for his sex, and he's aware that Dad wouldn't have it any other way. Still, prim and elegant "Lady Daisy Chain" is fascinating. Since she's only conscious when upright and open-eyed, she offers just tantalizing glimpses of life in 1905, when she last went to sleep, plus some of Ned's family history. Adroitly, King-Smith pokes fun at the attitudes that make Ned conceal his friend and, later, rationalize his interest in her—she goes to school as a historical possession of Gran's; it's only after an antique dealer offers a large sum for her that she's justified, in Dad's eyes, as an investment. The author satirizes these subterfuges with gentle wit, adding some drama when Lady Daisy is stolen, and a pleasing conclusion, set in the future, when Ned's little daughter meets the doll for the first time. A surprising subject for King-Smith—no farms, no animals- -but enjoyable. (Fiction. 8-12)Read full book review >
ALL PIGS ARE BEAUTIFUL by Dick King-Smith
Released: April 1, 1993

Allowing that his favorite was fierce-looking Monty, a 600- pound "large white" who had ten "wives" and was a "pushover" who loved to have his head scratched, the author of Babe, the Gallant Pig (1985) ruminates companionably about the habits and characters of pigs. Onetime farmer King-Smith treats his subject with perspicacity; this may be a paean to pigs, embellished with amusing "things a pig might be saying" ("Don't you dare pick up one of my babies"), but it's not sentimental; he even observes that a sow may accidentally squash her own young. And there's a sly subtext: pigs are wonderfully varied in size, shape, and color, and also, in many ways the author details, a lot like people—"But all pigs are beautiful." Jeram picks up King-Smith's affection and enthusiasm with humorously limned porcines in vigorous pen lines dappled with soft watercolors. Entertaining and genuinely informative: the best yet in the uneven new "Read and Wonder" series. (Picture book. 4+)Read full book review >
THE CUCKOO CHILD by Dick King-Smith
CHILDREN'S
Released: March 1, 1993

King-Smith's latest is no surprise—yet another tale of an animal on a British farm, informed by keen insight into animal behavior and leavened with just enough fantasy to allow the animals to converse—but it is, predictably, delightful. On a class trip, Jack snitches an ostrich egg (which would otherwise have been fed to a boa constrictor); tucking it under the family goose (he has to find her eggs a stepfamily, since the incubation periods are different), he succeeds in hatching Oliver, whose dim, self-important "father" continues to believe he's a goose despite all the evidence, but whose "mother" is more astute. Seamlessly bringing in an ostrich's normal maturation (Jack, a bird enthusiast, is well versed), King-Smith fashions an eventful plot: Oliver's near-disastrous first swim; his displacement by the next year's goslings and reinstatement after a heroic encounter with a fox; the threat of his being returned to the zoo and its eventual happy outcome, with his own flock of females. Meanwhile, the author characterizes everyone, animal or human, with his usual good-humored wit. A likable story and fine readaloud. Illustrations not seen. (Fiction. 7-11)Read full book review >
THE ANIMAL PARADE by Dick King-Smith
CHILDREN'S
Released: Oct. 21, 1992

A Collection of Stories and Poems, as well as several excerpts—e.g., from White Fang, Black Beauty, and the editor's own novels. The open format and relaxed, often humorous illustrations make this an attractive offering; a "Reading List" points out the longer books excerpted, but it's not clear which of the rest of King-Smith's own offerings (19 of the 30 entries, including four of his retellings of Aesop's fables) are new here. It seems somewhat like self-advertisement, but King-Smith is such a fine, likable, and entertaining writer that it also doesn't seem to matter. A pleasant introduction to the diversity of styles—from whimsical to heroic—represented by this subject. (Anthology. 7-10)Read full book review >
ALPHABEASTS by Dick King-Smith
Released: Sept. 30, 1992

An author of popular animal fantasies proves that he's as witty a poet as he is a storyteller—here, prefacing 26 comical verse portraits with four somewhat more sober quatrains recalling species that have "shot their bolt and had their chips/And run their course and breathed their last." Whether it's the anaconda ("If he can eat explorers who accost him in Brazil,/As is the Anaconda's wont, the anaconda will") or the X-ray fish (who "has no kind of privacy at all./Though it may wish and wish you couldn't do it,/The fact remains that you can see right through it"), these sketches are a winning blend of curious facts and flights of fancy. Originally written for Punch, much of the phrasing is engagingly British; and much of the fun is in the perfect placement of "difficult" words. Like Jeanne Steig, whose wonderful Consider the Lemming (1988) had similar appeals, King-Smith rejoices in a perfect illustrator: Blake's freewheeling pen deftly captures the lively beasts (rueful, bemused, or gleeful) plus a number of entertainingly caricatured human observers. Splendid fun. (Poetry/Picture book. 6+)Read full book review >
PRETTY POLLY by Dick King-Smith
CHILDREN'S
Released: Sept. 1, 1992

A parrot is too expensive, so Abby decides to teach one of the farmyard hens to talk. Patience is rewarded: "Pretty Polly" first speaks at four months and soon has a large vocabulary whose use, like a parrot's, may happen to be relevant but is basically random. Still, Abby loves Polly and is fully engaged in her life's natural dramas. When a fox attacks, Polly is the sole survivor among her siblings; Dad, who persists in seeing her money-making potential (though he has agreed that Polly belongs to Abby), provides a cockerel and a new generation is hatched, but none with Polly's gift. The rumor of a talking hen gets out; there are encounters with a journalist and an elderly duke, who imagines that Abby is an extraordinary ventriloquist. The family's proper respect for his grace, tempered with sensible egalitarianism, provides some humor, as does Abby's little brother Bob, whose reasonable misuse of language contrasts delightfully with Polly's parroting. All in all, a typical King-Smith treat, with a well-realized British farm setting, amusing dialogue, and an appealing premise developed with logic and good humor. Illustrations not seen; unfortunately, the jacket art is rather wooden in style and differs in detail from the text. (Fiction. 5-11)Read full book review >
SOPHIE'S TOM by Dick King-Smith
CHILDREN'S
Released: Aug. 1, 1992

The delightfully determined small person introduced in Sophie's Snail (1989) celebrates her fifth birthday on Christmas Day; honoring her plan to become a "lady farmer," her parents and twin brothers give her a splendid toy farm, but her live pets are still limited to the wood lice, slugs, earthworms, and so on she keeps in the potting shed. To these she hopes to add a stray cat she's feeding; Dad doesn't like cats, but—with the connivance of great-great-aunt Al, who suggests importing a mouse into the kitchen—Sophie gets her way. Meanwhile, she's started school, where she negotiates in her own inimitable way with classmate Duncan ("not only a malleable little boy but very greedy") and old enemy Dawn. A predictable conclusion—Dad is entirely won over, and "Tom" has kittens—but King-Smith's narration in this sequel is wonderfully crisp and unsentimental, while bright, quietly persistent Sophie (like Lowry's Sam) has rare charm. The language has suffered more Americanization than Sophie's Snail, detracting from the pleasant British flavor; on the other hand, Parkins's amusing cross-hatched drawings, nicely blending humor and deft characterizations, are superior. (Fiction. 5-10)Read full book review >
PADDY'S POT OF GOLD by Dick King-Smith
CHILDREN'S
Released: March 1, 1992

When Brigid espies a leprechaun, it's due to a lucky combination of circumstances: she's an only child celebrating her eighth birthday—and she also has a hole in her boot. She and Paddy are soon close friends. He serves as interpreter for the farm animals (e.g., the rabbit wants Brigid to put something over his cage at night to keep foxes from staring at him); she delights in seeing his "landlords," a family of badgers in the nearby wood, and brings him his heart's desire at Christmas, a tiny bottle of whiskey. Like the shoemaker's elves, Paddy is gone soon after receiving this gift, in this case because old age catches up with him: born in 1815, his span is complete, and in a touching wintry scene, an old badger shows Brigid his grave. But he has left a gift: following his riddled instructions, Brigid finds a real chest of gold in her own yard. It's the perfectly crafted details that give this simple story its charm: the "lep's" domestic arrangements, his engaging mix of magic and vulnerability, the small dramas involving the farm animals, the amiable dialogue, the unique friendship. Parkins's crosshatched pen drawings are also unusually felicitous, depicting Paddy as similar to a cheery little Danish troll and quietly evoking the Irish setting. Warm, imaginative, and (again) grounded in the author's good sense and real knowledge of field and farm. (Fiction. 6-11)Read full book review >
THE TOBY MAN by Dick King-Smith
CHILDREN'S
Released: Oct. 1, 1991

Like Lindgren's Ronia, the Robber's Daughter (1983), young Tod Golightly comes "from a long line of robbers." Unlike Ronia, he's prepared to follow in their footsteps, beginning immediately after his father fails to survive an encounter with a blunderbuss. Tod's first attempt fails because his intended victim is deaf and comically mistakes his every demand. Tod soon assembles a band of animals with whom he can converse (though no one else in the story has this facility): Matilda, a wise, motherly donkey who conspires in her own abduction from a cruel master; her friend Digby, a mastiff; Evil, a ferret whose friendship belies his name; and a magpie. They do rob one stagecoach, but Tod is nabbed on his next attempt; fortunately, he has meanwhile made friends with a kindly parson who cleverly- -if mendaciously—convinces the court that Tod's an innocent, and then adopts him on condition that he becomes one. Not as creatively plotted as some of King-Smith's others (Martin's Mice, 1989) but entertaining—with the dialogue a delightful blend of whimsy and common sense. Readers may later go on to Leon Garfield. Glossary of 18th-century terms (a toby man is "a robber who holds up travelers on the road"). (Fiction. 7-12)Read full book review >
THE JENIUS by Dick King-Smith
Released: July 15, 1990

After Judy's class teases her about the limited potential of her favorite pets—guinea pigs—Judy discovers that her elderly pair has given birth to one with special talents. She trains "Jenius" to do several tricks, but he fails to perform at the pet show because of his well-learned fear of cats. Judy is vindicated, however, when Jenius does his best trick for her skeptical Dad. Amusing dialogue but predictable plot and cliched characters. An unusually slight effort from a fine author; still, an acceptable additional title for this reading level. Firmin's attractive full-color illustrations strike a good balance between realism and caricature. Read full book review >
SOPHIE'S SNAIL by Dick King-Smith
Released: Oct. 1, 1989

Six stories about a remarkably self-possessed four-year-old and her family. Like her creator, Sophie takes a serious interest in animals of all kinds—her life-plan is to buy a farm, and she already has a piggy bank labeled "farm munny." Her twin brothers scoff, but Dad has her measure: "Your sister may be small but she is a very determined person." Meanwhile, Sophie keeps pets suitable to a London garden: an intelligent-looking little snail with a shell of "lovely buttercup yellow" that has a near-tragedy down the sink; woodlice, in the potting shed, occasioning a memorable confrontation with a beruffled new neighbor—a little girl Sophie scorns for thoroughly sensible reasons. There are also comic interactions with Dad, whom Sophie "amuses" at length when he's laid flat by a bad back; and with Great-great-aunt Alice from the Highlands, who proves to be a kindred spirit. Anyone who delights in the wordplay of the Winnie-the-Pooh books will find King-Smith's sharply observed, witty portrait of this memorable child appealing; paradoxically, down-to-earth Sophie and her tender regard for real little animals is a refreshing contrast to Milne's whimsy and sentimentality. Perfect as a readaloud. Read full book review >
THE FOX BUSTERS by Dick King-Smith
Released: Nov. 1, 1988

Another wonderful animal story from the author of Babe, the Gallant Pig and Harry's Mad. The chickens at Foxearth Farm, profiting from several generations of relative freedom from cages and regimentation, are unusual: quick-witted and independent, they have learned to fly (in contrast to hens' usual "short-range, low-altitude, frantic fluttering"), well out of reach of the ever-hungry foxes. The foxes plan a trap, and succeed in a massacre; but by the time they have devised a second scheme (they learn to climb ladders in order to reach the chickens' high nests), the chickens are ready: three pullets have learned to produce armored eggs that prove a decisive weapon against their enemies. King-Smith could well be compared to E.B. White: with comical precision, he captures the essence of the farmyard in his animal characters' behavior, incorporating such details as names found on farm machinery and chicken-related wordplay in his graceful, economical narrative. Not only is his book an imaginative, exciting story—when the victory of the naturally pacific hens costs the life of a gallant rooster (rather dim compared to his clever wife), as well as a lot of eggs, it downplays heroics and suggests that even a just victory has its price. A swell read-aloud. Read full book review >
CUCKOOBUSH FARM by Dick King-Smith
Released: Aug. 15, 1988

Round the year at yet another farm, with the usual series of blossoms, harvests and babies; this time the journey is distinguished by King-Smith's careful structure and nicely cadenced prose, and by the airy, stylized illustrations that Japanese-born Kazuko has done for her first book. There's a warm feeling, too, to little Hazel Meadows' reiterated "I do love babies," which turns out to be a good thing: the babies who arrive on Christmas Day are twins, a new brother and sister. But although that event provides a focus, it is only one of many beginnings in a year on this modern farm—King-Smith, who has been a farmer in England, provides authentic details that make a fine antidote to the storybook farms born of uninformed nostalgia. Satisfying. Read full book review >
HARRY'S MAD by Dick King-Smith
Released: Jan. 21, 1987

Harry Holdsworth, nine, inherits a 40-year-old parrot from a great-uncle who was a professor of linguistics across the ocean in New York. Initially nonplussed by the bequest—since he's not interested in birds, knows that talking parrots only "parrot" without understanding, and fears he'll be stuck with the care of this one for decades to come—Harry is delighted to discover that Madison (Uncle George named his fourth parrot for the fourth President) not only talks with humor and erudition but understands more than most people, a secret Harry and his parents agree to keep to themselves in order to be free of publicity. The first half of the book is a delicious exploration of what it's like for a nice family to be augmented by a genial old parrot with a fund of gourmet recipes, a wicked cleverness at Monopoly and crossword puzzles, and the ability to do a perfect Bogart imitation. When burglars break in, Mad prevents a theft but is kidnapped; then, after several adventures complicated by his wish to keep his intelligence secret, he manages to contact Harry (collect) from a telephone booth and find his way home—but not before Dad has made the mistake of providing a substitute parrot, Fweddy, whose apparently unintelligent remarks are limited to such precious phrases as "Tebbly tebbly sowwy." Much as the Holdsworths have learned about not prejudging in their experiences with Mad, Fweddy has a couple of surprises for them, and so, still, does Mad, in this leisurely, charming fantasy. Although stingy center margins may invite spine cracking, this is otherwise an attractively designed book with plenty of white space and appropriately humorous line drawings. Children who enjoy Charlotte's Web or A Cricket in Times Square will love Mad—the British setting makes his Bogart imitations all the funnier. This would be great to read aloud. Read full book review >
MAGNUS POWERMOUSE by Dick King-Smith
Released: April 1, 1984

To country mouse Madeleine and Oxford-bred Marcus Aurelius there is born a giant, ravenous baby, whom they wisely/learnedly name Magnus. Fed, in desperation, the Porker Pills unlettered Madeleine inadvertently ate when she was pregnant, Magnus grows bigger, more demanding ("More, Mummy! More! More!")—a trial to his meek, magniloquent father, a worry to his loving and practical mother. With the Porker Pills used up, and fierce Magnus in danger at loose, the two appeal to farmer-fed rabbit Roland—who fancies being called "Uncle" by "the little fellow," then greets word of his giantism with "How perfectly splendid!" The three are ecstatic at Magnus' triumph over a "Nasty cat." ("A positive powerhouse? booms Roland. "Powermouse, you means," squeals Madeleine.) Even Marcus Aurelius expresses his "undying gratitude" at Magnus' springing him from a trap. Then the farmer, noticing the empty rabbit-food bag, the sprung trap, sends for Jim the ratcatcher—behind his back, Jim the Rat. . . and an authorial upending the equal of Magnus. Jim the Rat can smell a mouse (even "a house-mouse'); he treasures the legend of the King Rat—"Could it be a King Mouse?" Baiting a mink trap with a Mars Bar, he catches Magnus; covertly bears him off-to the horror of the watching trio; and sets about taming him—"The way to the royal heart, he thought, is through the royal stomach"—while Madeleine and Marcus Aurelius comfort themselves with Roland's kindly prophecy of his "triumphal return." So, indeed, it will be: Jim's worship of his extraordinary pet ("A ratcatcher may look at a King Mouse") is matched by Magnus' guilty yearning ("All because Magnus was so greedy! Nasty, nasty Magnus!") for his Mummy and Daddy. There is a hint, once they're all happily resettled, of further adventures to come. A disquieting hint, in a way—so vigorously and unexpectedly do the animal world and the human world mingle in this first. Read full book review >
THE MOUSE BUTCHER by Dick King-Smith
Released: May 24, 1982

Another clever, archly playful animal story from the very British author of If Pigs Could Fly (p. 419, J-87). This one takes place on a small island which the humans have evacuated. The cats left behind have inherited their owners' titles, homes, and social position. Thus Giglamps, the doctor's cat, is slumming a bit by pal-ing up with our hero Tom, the butchers' cat; but Tom is a superior provider—a talent which wins him a cushy arrangement with the stand-offish Bampton-Bush, the colonel's Persian cat. For the run of the estate and the surplus game thereon, Tom will provide the colonel-cat's starving family with pheasant, partridge, hares, and fish from their own estate—and, as a bonus for him, he'll romp with Bampton-Bush's daughter, the lovely "little huntress" Diana. (The story is full of these allusions.) With church cat Ecclesiastes' large family filling out the hunting party, and with the outlaw monster cat Great Mog for lurking danger and final confrontation, it's nimble and less forced than the pig story—more like an elegant English trifle, for those with a taste for writing as per-formance. Read full book review >
PIGS MIGHT FLY by Mary Rayner
Released: April 1, 1982

This British story of a special pig begins with sow Mrs. Barleylove giving birth to eight piglets-one of them a "dag" (runt?) who is also deformed, with odd doglike feet instead of normal trotters. The farmer, whom the pigs call the "Pigman" and consider their servant, takes little Daggie Dogfoot away, as is the fate of all dags, but this one escapes and returns to his mother, causing her to speculate on whether he is destined for something "special." "If pigs can fly" is the other sows' answer to that—but if you then expect little Daggie to fly, you find instead that he learns to swim, taught by his new friends Felicity, a duck, and Isaak, an otter. Then, when a flood strands pigs and farmer foodless on a hilltop, Daggie and Felicity save them all by swimming bravely off for help. With their mission more than accomplished, a helicopter rescue team straps Daggie onto their cable and hoists him home. "Surely Daggie can't really be flying?" says Mrs. Barleylove on sighting him; and Daggie's proud father replies, "He's doing better than that, my dear. Must be something wrong with that thing and the boy's towing it in, butchered if he isn't!" This comes complete with delighted quotes from British reviewers, who probably have a higher tolerance for barnyard whimsy. But anyone charmed enough by the initial fancy to stick with it will indeed be delighted by the ultimate, unexpected fulfillment of the title's promise. Read full book review >

Like his ancestor, Babe, the Gallant Pig (1985), who distinguished himself as a champion herder of sheep, Ace is a persistent achiever. His talent is understanding human speech; his communications to Farmer Tubbs may be limited to grunts for "no" and "yes," plus an importunate squeal to indicate hunger, but Tubbs soon realizes that Ace's comprehension is extensive. The ensuing humorous events include Ace's insinuation of his portly person into Tubbs' house, where he makes friends with Tubbs' aloof cat and haughty Corgi; and a trip to a pub, where Ace inadvertently overindulges. The book's sly focus is on Ace's education by TV: once he finds out how to work it, it becomes a fund of information; but when a reporter gets wind of Ace's accomplishments and he actually gets to appear, Ace and Tubbs are smart enough to conceal the extent of Ace's accomplishments; the resulting TV story is only remotely related to the full truth. At his best, King-Smith creates animal characters that are a unique, comic blend of human foibles and realistic animal behavior. This fantasy has that appeal; and though the humor here is less pungent than in Martin's Mice (1989), King-Smith's fans are sure to enjoy Ace's adventures. Read full book review >