Chewing the Cud read by Dick King-Smith

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The Independent Culture

The success of the film Babe made Dick King-Smith, author of The Sheep Pig (the book that inspired it), famous. But he was already loved by a very large constituency of children for dozens of excellent books. Most are anthropomorphic, and all have a direct honesty about them which is instantly charming. Direct honesty and instant charm are also the hallmarks of this autobiography, which is as satisfying and smile-making a story as anything else he has written. To have King-Smith himself reading doubles the pleasure of hearing it. Subtitled "an unexpected life from farmyard to Hollywood", Chewing the Cud is as fine a tale for our times as any of his fiction. After initial indecision and (in the eyes of accountants) failure as a farmer, King-Smith switched to teaching later than I suspect would be tolerated today, beginning his training at 49 and finishing it at 53. Then came the gradual discovery that his 20-odd years running a small farm, more as a rest home for individual animals than a business, had left him with a head full of anecdotes that were begging to be titivated into fiction. Being a primary teacher disciplined his style; his observant mind, sympathetic imagination and irrepressible sense of humour did the rest.

Best of the Rest

For Children: Sophie's Snail, written by Dick King-Smith, read by Bernard Cribbins, BBC Cover to Cover, 50 mins, tape £3.99, CD £5.99. A delightful tale, now revealed as King-Smith's life in miniature, in which the determined Sophie farms wood lice and free-range snails.