Betsy Who Cried Wolf
HarperCollins, May, 2002.
Picture Book, 40 pages.
It is through fables, parables, and folk tales that one generation tries to impart its wisdom to the next generation. But some of these tales can become preachy and boring. Enter Gail Carson Levine, who makes a wonderful leap of skill and humor to rewrite one of the most famous tales in such a humorous way that both the adult and the child will enjoy reading the story together over and over again.
Betsy, who is eight years old, has taken the Shepherd's Oath, and she intends to be the very best shepherd in Bray Valley. Zimmo, the wolf is lonely and hungry, but he has a plan. The sheep act just like a class of third graders: charming, but deficient in good judgment and always close to getting into major trouble. Betsy is very much like a very young, but very determined baby sitter.
Betsy surveys the familiar scene as she takes her charges out into the hills to graze. Sure enough, there is a wolf and he is wearing a muffler, as one of the sheep points out. (Youngsters always notice the oddest things about the rest of us.) Betsy blows her whistle, the villagers drop what they are doing to come to the rescue, and of course when they arrive the wolf has vanished. After all, this wolf has a plan. Betsy is reminded that a long time ago the village had lost a flock of sheep because they had a mischievous shepherd. Of course, as soon as the grownups leave, the wolf reappears. The wolf even howls, so Betsy blows her whistle again. Only a few villagers come, but Betsy has lost all of their confidence. Betsy has to go back to Shepherd's School. In the tradition of resolute young heroines, Betsy becomes even more determined. Of course when she goes out again, encounters the wolf, and blows her whistle no one comes to help her. Betsy must fight the wolf alone. Happily, in her haste to do battle, Betsy drops her lunch pail and her shepherd's pie falls out on the ground. Well, this certainly tastes better than a sheep! Therefore, over lunch, Betsy and Zimmo come to a mutual understanding of each other's point of view and instead of being enemies they form a team of shepherds for the benefit of sheep. After all, shepherd's pie or any kind of lunch beats trying to eat sheep. With this new interpretation of the classic tale, Ms. Levine has probably also told the story of the domestication of the dog.
Scott Nash's humorous illustrations add tremendously to the this wry retelling of the tale of the boy who cried "wolf." The sheep are all individuals, and the illustrations hilariously match up with Ms. Levine's wisecracking sheep. Do not miss all the little cartoons inside the front and back covers, especially the last one deftly hidden under the fold of the dust jacket.
Betsy Who Cried Wolf is a very good choice for those who enjoy a light touch when it comes to cautionary tales and the imparting of wisdom to the very young.
--Sarah Reaves White
Betsy Who Cried Wolf is available for purchase on Amazon.com
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This review was published in the July-August, 2002 of The Internet Writing Journal.
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