We're only five weeks into the new year, and already the children's book world has lost two giants. Dick King-Smith died on January 4th at the age of 88, and on Saturday, Brian Jacques, was felled by a heart attack. He was 71.
After learning that King-Smith had died, I went to my bookshelf and started rereading my favorite series of his, early chapter books that feature a small, but determined girl named Sophie. Yes, King-Smith is justifiably famous for his animal stories, most notably The Sheep Pig, which was made into the movie Babe, but the Sophie books, while not as well known, are just as good, at least to me.
The series starts with Sophie's Snail (when she's 4) and ends with Sophie's Lucky (when she's 8). Throughout all six books, the reader sees Sophie mature, yet her essential nature remains the same. Of small and of stocky build, she is determined, forthright, and as unstoppable as a bulldozer. She does not approve of lying or crying. And, from book one, her strongest desire is to be a lady farmer. In Sophie's Snail, she has to content herself with her herds and flocks of wood lice, centipedes, and other creepy crawlies. By book two, she has a pet cat named Tom (later changed to Tomboy after she produces a litter of kittens); book three brings not only a rabbit named Beano, a gift from Great-great Aunt Al, but a terrier puppy christened Puddle lands on her lap on Christmas Day. The series ends with her much closer to her dream of owning a farm than she--or her readers--might have imagined.
I devoured the books one after the other. At the end it was sad to realize that they'll be no more books from Dick King-Smith. I suppose now I'll have to start Brian Jacques' Redwall series. That one does have a final book, Roque Crew, due out in May.