Book Review: The Sheep-Pig by Dick King-Smith

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This is the final in my series of reviewing books I have already seen the movie adaptations of. The Sheep-Pig is, of course, the basis for the wonderful Australian film Babe. It tells the story of a piglet won at a fair in a weight-guessing competition by Farmer Hogget. The farmer calls him Pig but his mother called him and his brothers and sisters Babe, so that’s what all the other farm animals call him, including his adopted mother, Fly, the collie dog.

Fly is a working dog and soon Babe wonders why he can’t be a sheep-dog, too. She explains it’s because he’s a pig. “Why can’t I learn to be a sheep-pig?” he then asks. And when he saves the sheep flock from being stolen by sheep rustlers, Farmer Hogget begins taking Babe along when he and Fly round up the sheep. Eventually, Babe takes over many of Fly’s duties and she’s very proud of her adopted son, proving that a little pig can do anything he wants to do.

This is clearly a children’s book but there are beautiful messages running throughout it. Babe is the politest book character you will ever meet and he treats everyone with respect, even the sheep, even when Fly constantly tells him that they are stupid and don’t deserve his good manners.

If Animal Farm is the book you read in high school with a focus on the underlying messages, then The Sheep-Pig surely has to be the book you read in primary school doing the same thing. It is sweet and understated but its beauty lies in its simplicity. It is an easy, quick read for an adult and not that much more difficult for children.

However, some of the dialogue reflects the English countryside the book is set in and the special local linguistics, which I found needed interpreting and might challenge the younger reader. Examples include “theseyer” which I think means “these here”, “bain’t” meaning “isn’t”, “dussen’t” for “doesn’t”, “gennulmen” for “gentlemen” and several others. But it’s only in the dialogue and doesn’t bleed into the prose.

Perfect for children old enough to have longer chapter books read to them, it’s also a good length and level for children venturing into reading chapter books by themselves (I’d say eight or nine but I’m not a parent and I dare say it would depend on the individual child). It’s also a chance for adults to venture back into childhood for a morning or an afternoon (that’s all it will take to read it) and close the back cover with smiles on their faces.

The movie is extremely faithful to the book, although an extra character and storyline or two were added to make it long enough for a feature film, but it retains all the charm of the original book. I think it’s old enough now to be called a children’s classic and there’s not a zombie or spy in sight, just a farmer, his wife and an assortment of farm animals who are more than we’re led to believe farm animals can be.

In a word: charming.

4 stars

*First published on Goodreads 8 March 2016

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