“Writing my books is like handing out presents. Giving children pleasure gives you a wonderful sort of Father Christmassy feeling.” – Dick King-Smith, October 1995
Dick King-Smith was a gift to children. A beloved English children’s author, King-Smith grew up in a sort of well-to-do existence. His family owned a quality paper company and King-Smith was comfortable and happy with a small menagerie of pets. After serving in WWII, King-Smith became a farmer, then a teacher, and then a writer.
In The Water Horse, King-Smith delights young readers with an endearing tale of a Loch Ness Monster. The plot is sweet and simple. The writing is accessible, yet high in quality.
The story opens with a Scottish family discovering a strange looking egg that has washed up on the shore after a storm. The children secret the egg in the family bathtub for safe keeping overnight. The next morning, the egg has hatched into a strange and mythical baby sea creature. This tight-knit 1930s family includes a merchant sailor father who is mostly sea, a hard-working and practical mum, a live-in grandfather, and a pair of siblings. Once the sea creature is discovered by the adults, plans are made to move it into more suitable fish pond.
Over the course of this short and readable story, the family spends three years raising water horse Crusoe from a tiny hatchling to a tiger-sized sea creature with an incredible appetite and an ever-increasing need for a larger habitat. Over the course of those three years, the family makes the care of this creature a central feature of their life. In so doing, we are treated to a beautiful look into family teamwork and a family life based on shared values.
A little bit like E. B. White, Dick King-Smith writes in two voices. While the majority of the storytelling is from the point of view of the humans, there is an intriguing second voice which reveals the intelligence and internal thoughts of the animal. I like that. When the shift occurs it interesting and delightful. It almost feels like we, the humans, are spying on the other humans and that we are watching them from the vantage point of the title character. Of course most of what we know about the humans couldn’t be known by the water horse. So, King-Smith writes in two voices instead of telling the story strictly from one perspective or the other.
There is one tiny bit that I do not love and that I should mention. Near the end of the story, the children’s father rents a truck from a cattle thief. I am not sure why this is included. It takes an otherwise clean and clear story and puts a wart or two on it. The family is stopped by the police when they are not recognized as regular cattle farmers. I suppose this adds a thin layer of intrigue in an otherwise quite simple story. I wish that King-Smith had just left it out.
This book is likely to be ideal for newly independent readers who are ready to build stamina by reading short chapter books. It would also be a fun read-aloud to do between bigger and heavier read-alouds. My youngest was captivated by the Audible version as young as age five.