Dick King-Smith is one of those authors whose works are dubbed classics of children’s literature. Whether children actually like his books is something I question, frankly. I think, like many of the children’s classics, his books are those that people feel they should like, rather than those they actively enjoy. Or those children’s books that adults enjoy reading more than children enjoy listening to.
I have felt this for a long time without having any evidence to back this up, except for the fact that we have a huge number of Dick King-Smith books in our library at school, and I have never seen a single child take one of the books out, or speak to me about them.
I had never read any myself. His books weren’t on my radar, due to the fact that I studiously avoided anything with animals in it. I cried so much at Black Beauty and Lassie, I couldn’t take any more punishment, which is why I didn’t read Watership Down until I was thirty eight. I have always been very wary of anthropomorphic animal characters, no good ever comes of them.
I feel that it is not fair, however, to have firm opinions about books you haven’t read, so on rearranging our new library shelves and finding myself violently opposed to Mr. King-Smith on no grounds whatsoever, I decided to take one home and read it.
I took The Fox Busters, as we have about eight copies of it and I didn’t feel anyone would be too sad if I borrowed it for a few days.
It is the story of the chickens of Foxearth farm, who are rather better than the average fowl. One day, three sisters are hatched and to their parents amazement and pride, they can fly. Not only can they fly, they can perform aerobatics and have the brains to see how their flight can help them in their endless battle against the foxes that plague the farm.
The book tells the story of the battle between the foxes and the chickens for supremacy of the farm yard.
On the plus side:
This is a very cleverly written book.
It is very short, which means it would be great for guided reading in school.
It will appeal to children who are dotty about animals.
It has some very funny moments.
On the minus side:
The humour is quite sophisticated. It is more the sort of humour that works if a) you know a lot about farming b) you know a lot about word play and puns and c) if you’re grown up. If none of these apply, then the humour will sail right over your head.
The language is quite old fashioned and sophisticated. Although the length makes me want to say that this would be a great book for transitional readers, the language does not make it an easy choice, and for quite a few younger readers this will be really off putting.
The story, to me, seems very rushed. I thought the end battle in particular was really shoddily done, and the book sort of fizzles out – which is a shame, because there are some great action scenes earlier in the book.
The other thing I kept doing as I read, was to compare it with the book Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl. The themes are similar, the length is similar, yet the two books couldn’t be more different. Fantastic Mr. Fox is a perennial favourite in our school, Fox Busters isn’t. What makes them so different?
For me, it is that Dahl wrote for children and it seems to me that Dick King-Smith wrote for parents. I may be wrong, but that’s what it feels like to me.
Sorry Mr. King-Smith. Not my favourite. Not at all.
I would however, suggest that if, like us, you have trillions of copies lying around, that it would be best read in groups or with a teacher as a guided reading text, so you could be sure the children were actually taking in the nuances of the text. I would recommend it for boys and girls aged eight to twelve.