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21st August 1998 at 01:00
It doesn't happen often, but in The Stray (Cavalcade Pounds 7.99) Dick King-Smith actually writes about people. Immediately, his skill and empathy shine more brightly, at least for the girlies among us. Boys may well prefer the animal fables, but I loved the two and a half hours of June Whitfield's comforting, mumsy voice - like hot buttered scones and a nice cup of tea - telling us all about how a runaway old-age pensioner finds a comfy berth with a family by the seaside.

Henny Hickathrift (not, thank God, a chicken, despite her name) skips out of her retirement home and takes a train to the beach. Luckily, or unrealistically, depending on your point of view, she does not end up either as a bag lady or sectioned, but is taken in by the Goods, a five-children family whose father is a dentist.

Henny is adopted, offering childcare and ironing in exchange for a roof over her head. As well as doing the household chores, she finds the time to defend the family home against burglars, have her teeth fixed, adopt a stray dog in her turn and generally present a model of human kindness which is extremely refreshing.

This really is a lovely story, though it should probably be kept away from the cynical 13-year-olds and upwards. It is to be especially recommended for children to listen to with their grannies on a long summer afternoon.

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