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My daughter is turning into a right little drama queen. Last week, while I was working at home, a terrible, awful, high-pitched screech - originating from the living room - reverberated around our house, putting my parental instincts on high alert and galvanising me into immediate action. I hurtled down the stairs, fearing the worst, only to find my unrepentant daughter pointing to a bug the size of a ladybird which had injudiciously alighted on one of her toys.
This wasn't the first time something completely innocuous had resulted in a completely disproportionate reaction from her, and I needed to do something about it. Remembering the excellent cautionary tale of "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" from a dilapidated book of Aesop's Fables I had when I was a child, I set about trying to find a contemporary version which my daughter could identify with. After a recommendation from a member of this site, I settled on the Tony Ross version of this classic story.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tony Ross is perhaps better known for his talent for illustration, rather than his writing (he is the illustrator on Francesca Simon's Horrid Henry books) but he is an accomplished children's author in his own right, with the successful "Little Princess" series of books to his name (now an animated series on Channel 5's weekday morning Milkshake! programmes).
The paperback version of "The Boy Who Cried Wolf", published by Andersen Press in 2008, runs to 32 pages and measures around 11" by 9". It has an RRP of £5.99, but I bought mine from Amazon for £4.49 (a 25% discount).
We are introduced to a little boy named Harry who lives on one side of the mountains, and a rather posh wolf, who lives in the lap of luxury on the other side of the mountains. Our un-named wolf has very good manners and likes to dress up in a dinner jacket before coming over to Harry's side (with his picnic basket) to dine - on people.
Everyone is afraid of the wolf, so whenever Harry is told to do something he doesn't like - such as have a bath, go to violin lessons, or just to give people a good old scare, he cries "Wolf". One day, whilst cycling in the mountains, the wolf jumps out and starts chasing him. Harry flees in terror, telling anyone who will listen that the wolf is out to get him, but they ignore him, assuming he is telling porkies again.
The Wolf eventually catches up with Harry, but when he hears the grown-ups basically tell Harry "We told you so" - he changes his mind about eating him - and devours the grown-ups instead. Just when we think Harry is safe, the wolf changes his mind has him for supper too.
The simple, vibrant watercolour illustrations will be instantly familiar to readers of the Horrid Henry series. They are full of character, nuance and humour, with lots going in almost every scene. For most of the book, the wolf is represented in blacks, whites and greys and combined with his long, exaggerated angular face, it gives him a cheerfully sinister air without being obviously frightening.
It pays to dwell on the pictures - you'll find something new that raises a smile each time you read the story (a picture on the wall of the music teacher's house with the portrait of a man, fingers planted firmly in his ears while Harry is "playing" - and the most perfect look of disgust on his face - is a perfect example). A lot of the finer detail may be lost on younger children, so its worth pointing them out as you go along.
The obvious lesson to be learned is what happens when you lie or exaggerate too often. I bought this book with the specific purpose of using the central theme to help my daughter realise how her behaviour was being perceived, and after a few reads, I like to think she now understands. It remains to be seen whether the histrionics will become less frequent, but the book has certainly been a useful too to help get the point across.
I was unsure about the book at first - particularly as a bed time story - given that the outcome is quite gruesome. However, despite my doubts, it looks like my sensitivities were somewhat misplaced - my daughter had no problems with it and actually seems to like the idea that Harry gets his comeuppance in spite of his momentary reprieve.
The story is a witty - if slightly dark - contemporary update of the original fable - which has the boy as a bored village shepherd, who loses his flock (rather than his own life) because after he causes a number of false alarms, nobody bothers to come to his assistance. Using the premise that Harry cries wolf to get out of things he doesn't want to do is a clever modernisation that today's children will be able to relate to more readily.
The book provides a useful focus for discussion. The story is well told, beautifully illustrated and - in a very crowded market for kid's books - stands out as a worthy addition to our burgeoning library and well worth the price. Recommended.
© Hishyeness 2009