by Alan Armstrong, published 2005
“…Ben started talking about his reading lessons. “It was like coming in out of the dark,” he said. “When I started, there were shapes and things, but nothing was clear. Then it was clear and I could see. It was like being born.”
There are many reasons why I am recommending this children’s book, despite it’s rather unusual setting. The unusual part is that the book revolves around farm animals who can talk with each other and two children, and the animals help teach one of the children how to read. However, those points more or less dissolve into the background of the two main themes of this sweet children’s book.
The first theme in this children’s book is a thorough re-telling of Dick Whittington and His Cat. I grew up with this childhood story, but in my small survey, I’ve discovered the current generation of parents (30’s or so) never encountered this tale. So this book has tremendous value because it keeps alive a wonderful folk tale that dates from the 1600’s. In that sense, the book is partly historical fiction.
The second theme in the book is about remedial education, and the tension that children may experience when they cannot read or keep up with their class. It’s an odd theme to put in a book with Dick Whittington, and yet, it works. The two stories are woven together, as the narrator, a cat named Whittington, goes back and forth between the folk tale and the boy learning to read. To be honest, the book would have been better without imposing the remedial reading part, but if it helps one child feel okay, I think it’s fine.
There’s a great deal of heart and compassion throughout the book. The animals develop kind relationships with each other, make peace, set boundaries, and live together harmoniously. I think any child over the age of 9 would easily enjoy it. Some of the history and concepts might get lost with younger children.