Satoshi Kitamura presents a quirky tale about three sheep that go on a trip to the seaside where they encounter a group of wolves playing mini golf on the beach. Somewhat naively, the sheep are persuaded by the wolves to take off their coats before going in the sea. Soon after they return from their swim, they discover that their coats and the wolves have vanished. Setting out on an eventful and chaotic quest to catch the culprit, the sheep enlist the aid of Private Detective Elliott Baa and a gang of rugby playing cats.
'Strange' is a word that springs to mind to describe this story, but strange in a good way. Some of the most amusing moments come from the fact that the sheep do things that you definitely wouldn't associate with sheep. Such things include going down to the beach in a convertible and taking off their fleecy coats to go for a swim. Sometimes in the story we see them standing around on 4 legs in the meadow, eating grass, just like common-or-garden sheep so the combination of animal characteristics and human characteristics is a particularly endearing feature.
Superb, vivid illustrations almost tell the story without any need for words, making it a delight even for pre-readers. Stories that help develop predictive skills are an important part of literacy development and, with its unexpected twists, this book allows for an engaging challenge. Storytellers can pause at key points to ask the child what they think is going to happen next.
Spotting different things in the pictures is a great way to test a child's observational skills. Situations of total mayhem are depicted, which makes this fun and not too easy. Strewn around the room and flying through the air are many unusual and humorous objects. Sharp eyed readers may be able to pick up clues such as tyre tracks in the sand and discarded beer cans after the crooks have fled the scene.
Sending out a heavy moral message is not what this book is about, although it does warn children that people aren't always what they seem and that it is not always good to be too trusting. Solving problems by creative methods is a theme of the book as we see the characters working things out by being observant and quick witted.
Speech bubbles add variety and give the story a comic book style. Something my daughter used to enjoy was taking the part of one sheep and letting me read the others, which made the story more of an interactive experience. Shorter and simpler text is provided in the speech bubbles, so it is a good way for children to begin reading this book, before they become fluent enough to read it all.
Suspense is created by the beautiful, atmospheric artwork. Scenes of the countryside, the coast and the town encourage children to notice the differences in the various locations. Spacious country roads and lush landscapes can be contrasted with the architecture of the town. Several different modes of transport are also shown with the sheep starting out in a car, then hitching a ride on a canal boat, then going on foot to the town. Scientific concepts such as speed and distance can be discussed as children consider the time it might have taken the sheep to complete different stages of their journey.
Sheep in Wolves' Clothing is surprisingly involved for a children's story, with lots of incidents and fast paced, exciting events. Subtle sending up of the traditional detective story will be appreciated by adults, such as a sheep as a private eye, dressed in a fedora hat and dark glasses and seedy back streets where gangs of wolves hang out.
Satisfying endings are crucial to great stories and I am pleased to say that the author ties up all fragments of the plot very well.
Sellers at Amazon are offering this charming book from £1.59 new or a mere £0.01 for a used copy.