Thursday, May 6, 2010

Pete the Sheep-Sheep

I'm so excited to get a chance to talk about Pete the Sheep-Sheep, written by Jackie French and illustrated by Bruce Whatley. I picked this book up from the library based entirely on the cover. Well that and the fact that I loved the duo's other book, Diary of a Wombat. So I knew I was in for a treat with this book. How can you not love a sheep in a fedora?

Everyone has heard of sheep-dogs, those helpful canines that keep a herd of sheep in line. And three Australian sheep-herders (Ratso, Big Bob, and Bungo) have typical sheep-dogs that do a great job keeping their herds in line. But the new guy is a bit different. Shaun doesn't have a sheep dog, he has a sheep-sheep. Pete the sheep-sheep to be exact. Pete herds the sheep by talking with them and being nice. And the sheep love him. After a while all the sheep are following Pete to Shaun to be sheared. Shaun does a wonderful job shearing and the animals become picky. The other sheep herders get angry and kick Shaun out of the group. So Shaun does what any other sheep shearer would do, he starts a sheep beauty salon. And after a while, all the sheep have left the herd and are going to the beauty salon for their cuts. And the herders are again out of a job. But Shaun is overworked and needs help. When the sheep-dogs head to the salon for a trim, the other herders realize where they need to be. Eventually they all end up giving haircuts to not just sheep but any animal interested in looking fabulous.

What I loved about this book is how it shows the values of politeness and hard work. Pete is such a fun character. His dialogue is polite and hilarious because of it. "'Baa Baa!' said Pete, which in sheep talk means, 'Thank you for waiting, sir. Shaun will be right with you.'" Sadly no one talks like that anymore, it seems like. That is compared with the other sheep-dogs which just bark and growl at the sheep. And Shaun is a wonderful shearer, willing to put in some extra work in order to make sure that the sheep are happy with their haircuts. And because of that politeness and the work that Shaun puts in, they quickly become the favorites. Shaun's Sheep Salon (and really the whole book) is such a wonderful silly story that children will be giggling all the way through it.

The illustrations are priceless. I love the little fedora on Pete and the funny expressions that the other sheep have. The image of the first customers in Shaun's Sheep Salon are hilarious, as are the haircuts. The story really plays with the idea of sheep shearing, making it something funny and silly rather than just a necessary function. All the sheep herders are wonderfully unique although I was getting flashbacks of the original illustrations from Fantastic Mr. Fox with the three farmers. The herders though are no where near as scary or mean. In fact everyone in the book, even the dogs, seem pretty amiable. Whatley uses soft colors and delicate lines to give this book a soft look. I love the mix of watercolors and colored pencils. This was such a cute story that I instantly fell in love. Each character is unique and the story is unlike anything I've ever read before. A wonderful tale.

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