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When a king and queen go away for a few days and appoint their knight and his horse as babysitters to the prince and princess, it sounds like an easy task. Soon, however, the knight and his steed find there is too much tidying up to do, and the knight says he would rather fly out into a 'night of surprises' than babysit any longer. The horse is afraid that magic might indeed make them fly out of the window, and it does.
Outside, they land on top of an old lady riding a donkey. Her bag of spells spills, so she offers the knight and his horse three wishes if they can catch the spells for her. This is another task that is not so simple, but they manage it. The grateful old lady and her donkey vanish in a puff of smoke, leaving magic in the air.
Unfortunately, one extremely naughty spell is still on the loose. It teases the poor knight, making plants grow out of his hair. He asks the horse to make a wish, but the horse thinks of himself and asks for a bucket of carrots and some fluffy slippers. The knight says, 'I wish you hadn't done that,' thus squandering the second wish. He and his horse are not pleased with each other, but they agree to make the third wish together. Oh dear, the knight then has carrots growing from the extremely long plants in his hair, along with the fluffy slippers on his feet. The horse ends up wearing the knight's armour but the knight soon gets it back. The horse trims the unruly carrot plants into a neat shape, but they just grow back again. Fortunately, the prince and princess hear all the noise and come out to see what is going on. They simply pull the carrot plants out by the roots and lead the knight and his horse back inside the castle. The next day finds them all busy doing some DIY and happily play acting. Babysitting doesn't seem so bad after all, although the horse secretly wishes he could have those carrots and fluffy slippers again.
'The Three Wishes' is not of course the first story about being granted wishes and wasting them, but David Melling serves up his version with originality and plenty of humour. His illustrations are always a delight. As the story starts, you feel almost as though you are turning the pages of a mediaeval manuscript. At various stages of the book, we see the knight with a banana skin on his head, a carrot tree growing out of his hair, and down on his hands and knees giving the little princess a ride on his back. The colour scheme throughout centres around autumnal greens, oranges and browns, although the old lady wears a blue dress and the princess has a pink nightie. The horse in his various ridiculous situations will be a great source of amusement for any child.
The text is in a large, clear font and usually on a white background. When it is superimposed on an illustration it is always on a light colour to make for easy reading. There are never more than a few lines per page, but occasionally the lines swirl around, following for example the movement of the really naughty spell. This is of course a read-aloud book, but because of the strong element of humour I'm sure that young independent readers would enjoy it too.
'The Three Wishes' is a sequel to Melling's 'The Kiss the Missed' and 'Good Knight, Sleep Tight', both of which are also very popular with three- to four-year-olds. This is a lovely series that most adults will enjoy sharing with young children. I borrowed a copy of 'The Three Wishes' from the library, but I would say that it is worth buying and could make a great Christmas present. If your family hasn't yet enjoyed the magic of David Melling's picture books, I would definitely encourage you to do so.
The Three Wishes
Paperback, 32 pages
Hodder Children's Books, 2008
Price £5.99 (Amazon £4.49)
Also posted on Ciao and Helium.