04 February 2008
Dick King Smith is such an inspiration. He started his writing career later in life, after having already tried his hand at farming, teaching, and TV presenting (and doing them all well, I might add, although he claims in his biography, Chewing the Cud, that he was not a very good farmer.) He has written dozens of books, all of them effortlessly readable, giving the impression that anyone with a good story to tell can sit down and crank it out. His most recent offering (at least on this side of the pond) is Hairy Hezekiah, about a Bactrian camel who is lonely in his zoo environment and sets off to find friendship and adventure in the big world. His journey takes him to the Safari Park, Shortseat, located in the English countryside. I have a sneaking suspicion that Shortseat is modeled after Longleat Safari Park, in Wiltshire. The fact that Longleat is the ancestral home of the Marquess of Bath, and the aristocrat in this book is called The Earl of Basin supports my theory. I have visited Longleat--long time ago, now--so perhaps I've actually met Hairy Hezekiah himself. King-Smith uses a friendly, conversational voice for his story, and this tone is reinforced by Nick Bruel's humorous black and white illustrations. This is just right for early chapter readers and will get them primed for some of King-Smith's meatier books, such as Babe: The Gallant Pig and (my personal favorite) Martin's Mice.