Dick King-Smith is the well-loved author of The Sheep Pig (filmed as Babe). His droll and understated use of humour is something I particularly enjoy in his many children’s books. My Animal Friends includes a useful autobiographical foreward. In this, King-Smith describes how animals were with him throughout his life, from when he was a small boy of four to when he picked up a pup during soldier duties in Italy, to farming life, to life as an author.
King-Smith used to keep pets in an unused grass tennis court enclosed with chicken wire. Amongst others, he kept lots of guinea pigs, rabbits, a tortoise, and a pair of golden pheasants. He also used to keep “masses” of mice and even became a member of a National Mouse Club.
All sorts of animal adventures abide in this book, including a lazy bull called Ben about whom King-Smith remarks, “I don’t think Ben would have hurt a fly. It would have been too much effort.” Then there is Susie, a small black and white terrier who disappears in freezing weather for eight whole days and nights. Nanny Anna is a stubborn daschund born with a propensity for mother-love, fussing over not just her own puppies, but also kittens and four piglets that had been rejected by their young sow.
There are many other animal adventures packed in this little paperback including tortoise riding, the author’s memory of a visit to the zoo when only four years old, pet goats, a clever fox, a playful chimp with cheeky habits and a crow that the author feeds regularly in his garden.
Children can benefit from reading and interacting with animals. This story may encourage parents to purchase a pet or just to cultivate the child’s power of observation with animals.
A former children’s librarian, Jane Fagan is currently a full-time mother of two.