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The Lamb Who Came for Dinner - Steve Smallman

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Paperback: 32 pages / Publisher: Little Tiger Press / Published: 1 Aug 2007

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      22.05.2013 13:37
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      An engaging short story for children

      A hungry wolf is unenthusiastically preparing vegetable soup one winter's night, thinking how much nicer it would be to have hotpot for dinner, when there is a knock at the door. Shivering on the doorstep is a very cute lamb, so the wolf invites her in, thinking he has just found the perfect ingredient for his hotpot.

      But the lamb is very cold, so the wolf puts her by the fire to warm up. "I can't eat a lamb that's frozen. I HATE frozen food," he declares. As the evening goes on, each time the wolf is ready to gobble up the lamb, something happens to halt the process, such as the lamb getting hiccups or falling asleep. So we start to witness a strange bonding process. When the lamb gives the wolf a cuddle, he experiences a very odd feeling - "He'd never been hugged by his dinner before." Can the wolf overcome his craving for lamb hotpot or will his wolfish ways always get the better of him? This is an amusing and quite touching tale of a most unlikely friendship.

      If you are looking for a story with an underlying moral message, this book does not disappoint. There are all sorts of positive themes here such as challenging our prejudices, controlling our baser instincts and love triumphing over evil. I am not a big fan of preachy books, but because this story is so quirky and funny, the moral messages are subtly presented and flow naturally from the plot without feeling forced.

      The book would make a good starting point for a discussion of how much we can choose to change our behaviour and about putting other people's needs before our own and even about the reasons people become vegetarian, but quite frankly I think this is a book to be bought for its humorous and quite exciting storyline first and foremost.

      This book offers an entertaining twist on the classic Big Bad Wolf character. This wolf is dressed in multi-coloured stripy socks and a rather benign looking tank top. Although when he bares his teeth he still looks a bit menacing, this wolf is definitely a comic book villain. Children seem to find animal characters with human traits rather good fun and in this book the wolf has just enough of the '40-something, lonely bachelor' about him to inspire a note of pity rather than terror. I'm sure this won't be lost on the adults either. The wolf's rocking chair adds a touch of the Val Doonican too, which I appreciated.

      As for the lamb, she has all the fluffy features you would expect of a cartoon lamb, but for me it is those pink, lace-up shoes that make her particularly endearing, gender stereotyping aside. That said, she is a bit irritating too. She fails to grasp that the wolf wants to eat her, despite him making it pretty obvious! I suppose many would find the lamb's trusting, naive nature part of her charm, but I just found it mildly annoying. It does add a touch of dramatic irony, however, because the reader knows the lamb is in danger, even though the lamb doesn't realise it.

      The illustrations are bright, colourful and complement the text very well. There is plenty of extra detail for observant readers to spot, such as the pictures in the wolf's sheep-dominated recipe book and the ornaments on the mantelpiece.

      It is a fabulous book for reading aloud to children. I love the way the tension builds. From the minute children see the wolf opening the door to a lamb, they know this is likely to be a perilous situation. Even the youngest of children know the reputation of story book wolves, so why should this one be any different? As the story unfolds, readers are going to be on the edge of their seats, because there are so many moments when the author makes you think, "This is it! He's going to eat the lamb now!" Each time the lamb avoids being eaten, the reader heaves a sign of relief, but then just when you think the wolf might be softening towards her, his hotpot hunger tempts him again to gobble her up.

      One of the things that makes this book fun to read to children is that the text contains a lot of 'sound effects' such as 'BRRRR! BRRRR!' when the lamb is shivering with cold, 'HIC, HIC, HICCUP!' when the lamb has hiccups and 'SNORE! SNORE!' when the lamb falls asleep. Children often love to join in with these sound effects and they really bring the story to life.

      I like the way the wolf keeps saying, "Goodness gracious me" each time he finds a reason why he can't eat the lamb. I think it helps children to concentrate on the book when they are listening out for a catchphrase. It helps build the suspense too because each time the wolf says "Goodness gracious me" you realise that the lamb is off the hook again - but for how long? I think the author has achieved a good balance between predictability and surprise in this story though. Just when you have become used to the pattern of the story, events take an unexpected course with the wolf deciding to put the lamb out of the house, because that is the only way he is going to stop himself from eating her.

      So out she goes in the cold, cold snow. This is one part of the story that might be a bit upsetting for some children as they think of this tiny, pitiful creature out in the snow with nowhere to go, but it does provide a bit of food for thought about the way sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind. What will become of the little lamb? Will she get lost? Will she freeze to death? Will she get eaten by a giant owl?

      In this part of the book we see the wolf finally starting to think about the consequences of his actions and, unlike your typical story book wolf, this one actually has a conscience. But can a wolf really change his ways? Can a wolf and a lamb really live happily ever after? All will be revealed. Because the story has so far taken place inside the wolf's cottage, it adds a new level of interest to venture out into the snowy, dark woods, which do look rather spooky.

      If you really want a good example of how to read this story to a child, there is a clip on YouTube from a kids' show called Bookaboo in which special guest, Meatloaf delivers a fantastic rendition of the tale. There is plenty of scope for an adult reading the story to vary the pace so that children appreciate the contrast between the quiet moments, such as when the lamb is asleep in the wolf's arms, and the more frantic scenes, such as when the wolf rushes through the wood in search of the lamb. You can convey a sense of a 'calm before the storm', which makes the story more dramatic. You can use different voices for the lamb and the wolf. Some children who are more competent readers might want to take the part of the wolf and read his lines, while an adult reads the rest of the narrative. This could turn the story into a rewarding, interactive experience.

      Some children will be able to appreciate the plays on words, such as the wolf putting the lamb by the fire to thaw out because he hates frozen food, and him giving her something to eat when she is hungry and referring to this as 'stuffing.'

      I would certainly recommend this book for children aged about 3 to 7 years. It is quite gripping for a children's story and achieves a good balance between humour and scariness so that it is appropriate even for the very young. It's heart-warming but the comic moments stop it from descending into over-sentimentality.

      The Lamb who came for Dinner is available new from sellers at Amazon from £6.55.

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