Friday, February 05, 2010

Chewing the Cud

Chewing the Cud is Dick King-Smith's delightful autobiography, perfectly illustrated with drawings by Harry Horse. Although this book can easily be enjoyed by children (clean, wholesome content) and may well have been written for an audience of younger readers, I found it perfectly engaging and enjoyed it immensely. His tone throughout the book is as though he's talking directly to a friend.

First of all, Dick King-Smith is not his real name. His real name is Ronald Gordon King-Smith, after his father and a South African friend of his father. As a small child he acquired the nickname "Dick" and that's what he stuck with.

Mr. King-Smith actually was a farmer from 1947 to 1967 (though, he admits, not a very good one - "good" meaning "making a profit"), and it's this period of his life that gave him so much insight into animals. He and his wife, whom he met when they were children, both loved animals and tried to raise just about every domestic animal one can imagine on a farm.

At 49, no longer able to farm (the farm had been sold by its owner), and having tried and failed to make it as salesman of fire-fighting suits, and as a work-study engineer, Mr. King-Smith enrolled in Bristol University. Four years later he graduated with a degree in education. He began teaching at an elementary school - first eight-year-olds, then 6-year-olds. (The description of his school sounds like the village school in Miss Read's books.) It was at this time that he began to write. He taught at the school for seven years, then was able to move to writing full-time.

His description of how he works amused me:

"I write in all the wrong ways. I don't plan a story out as I should, I just get an idea and blast off into the wild blue yonder, hoping that things will turn out okay and that it will eventually have what all successful stories must have, whether they be for children or adults, namely a Good Beginning, a Good Middle, and a Good End. Usually it works, sometimes it doesn't, but it suits me....

"In the evening, if I've written enough, a chapter, say, I read it to my wife. If she says, 'Super,' or 'Great, ' or some such, that's grand. If she says, 'Yes, well, I think it's time I put the Brussels sprouts on' and appears less than impressed by what I've read, I have to begin thinking very seriously. Is this story going wrong? How is it going wrong? Is it just a load of rubbish? Sometimes it is."

And about his famous book, Babe (originally titled The Sheep Pig), and the movie made from that book, he says:

"One particular thing about the film that delighted me was that as soon as I set eyes on the actor who played Farmer Hogget, I saw to my amazement that he was the spitting image of the imaginary figure I'd had in my head when I wrote the book all those years before.

"I've seen Babe six times now and every time I've laughed and I've cried...

"If you were to ask me to choose a favorite from among the dozens and dozens of books I've produced, I would probably say I think it may be the best."

He seems to be a genuinely modest man, content and grateful for the life he's had. Summing up his life (at the time - this book was published in 2001) he writes:

"I wasn't a particularly good soldier or farmer or salesman or factory worker or teacher, but at last I've found something I can do reasonably well. I'm a lucky man, in my three children, in all my grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and most especially of course in my wife, who's always backed me up and seen us through bad patches. Without Myrle, I could never have been what I now am.

"Looking back at my life so far, there's only one thing to be said, in just the same quiet tones of satisfaction that Farmer Hogget used, at the end of the Grand Challenge Sheep-dog Trials: 'That'll do.' "



Anonymous vanessa said...

How interesting, what a superb potted biography you've written on Dick King-Smith. I do like your book reviews, very much, you always make me want to read every single book you've recommended. Thank you. Love Vanessa xxx (do you mind if i knit)

1:55 PM  
Blogger hopeinbrazil said...

Lovely review. The boys and I have chuckled through several of King-Smith's books, but I wasn't aware of this one.

9:28 AM  
Anonymous Phyllis said...

I've never heard of King-Smith, but I absolutely love the movie Babe. He sounds like a neat ordinary guy, and I'm curious now to look into his books and maybe his autobiography. Thanks for reviewing!

9:36 AM  
Blogger Good Yarns said...

Dick King-Smith is my youngest daughter's favorite author. I am so glad to hear about him through your book review, and look forward to reading it myself.

Did PBS give you credit for bringing me in? I am amazed at how much shipping costs for small books, but love the incoming books! So far, 2 Francine Rivers, 2 Joshua Harris, and "Israel, My Beloved" - one of my favorites which I must have lent out, never to be seen again. Thanks for suggesting it on your blog.

12:30 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Isn't PBS great, Julie? I WISH they'd give me credit for bringing you in, but I'm just happy you like using it. You are mailing the books out via media mail, right? Otherwise it does get horribly expensive, although sometimes First Class is cheaper.

I just posted 4 books by Georgette Heyer to get rid of - checked my shelves and had duplicates, and shelf space is too valuable around here for duplicates!

1:43 PM  

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