Listening Corner

Gerald Haigh

HORSE PIE by Dick King-Smith Age group: 4-8 Book and cassette tape (20 mins). Pounds 4.99. Corgi Audio

Barry Took and Marty Feldman, the scriptwriters of Round the Horne were, I recall, alarmingly obsessed with a horsemeat shop in the Balls Pond Road, the doorway of which regularly figured in the programme as a trysting place.

Now, we British no longer eat horses and current sensitivities are such that many children worry about the issues around meat-eating in general. Dick King-Smith's short tale of the threat to smuggle two carthorses across the channel to satisfy the appetites of the nasty French might well, therefore, provide a focal point for discussion of the ethics of animal husbandry and slaughter, as well as being a good story.

Dick King-Smith's gently-humorous style is reassuring to the young reader and his talking animals are never excessively twee. "They're big-headed with it, not to mention the size of their backsides" is Alfie's comment on the snooty shire horses.

It is a good, short and simple adventure yarn, set in an Old Horses' Home, in which wit and kindness ultimately overcome brute strength and ill-manners. It tells of a retired donkey called Jenny who, with the help of her pony friend Alfie, saves three rather bullying and unpleasant shire horses from the rustlers. The big horses, needless to say, are suitably chastened and grateful.

The reader is David Riley, and his virtuoso range of voices and accents (why are sly nasties always from Birmingham?) adds considerably to the listener's enjoyment. The package includes the full text of the story in a print size suited to the age range.

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