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Uplifting Picture Books That Don't Preach
The Lamb Who Came for Dinner
The Lamb Who Came for Dinner
by Steve Smallman, illustrated by Joelle Dreidemy
Little Tiger Press,(August 2006)
"Vegetable soup AGAIN!" moaned the old wolf. "Oh, I wish I had a little lamb. I could make a hotpot, my favourite!"
Just then . . .
It was a little lamb.
"Can I come in?" the little lamb said.
"Yes, my dear, do come in. You're just in time for dinner!" sniggered the old wolf.
The little lamb was shivering with cold. BRRRR! BRRRR! she went.
"GOODNESS GRACIOUS ME!" said the old wolf. "I can't eat a lamb that's frozen. I HATE frozen food!"
So he put her next to the fire to thaw her out.
The old wolf looked up a recipe for lamb hotpot. Mmmmmm! He felt hungry just at the thought of it.
The lamb was feeling hungry too. Her tummy rumbled. RUMBLE! RUMBLE! RUMBLE!
"GOODNESS GRACIOUS ME!" said the old wolf. "I can't eat a lamb with a rumbling tummy. I might get indigestion!"
So he gave the lamb a carrot to eat. "Stuffing," he said to himself.
--The Lamb Who Came for Dinner by Steve Smallman, illustrated by Joelle Dreidemy, p. 1-5.
A wolf is sick of eating vegetable soup and longs to eat a lamb, when he hears a knock at the door, and discovers a young, half-frozen lamb at his door, hoping to get in out of the winter cold. The wolf welcomes the lamb in, thinking of her as his meal, but he realizes he can't eat her frozen, so he helps to warm her. Next, she's hungry, so he feeds her, then tries to stop her hiccups--and the little lamb hugs him, which makes him feel funny about eating her. But he gets hungry again, and realizes he wants to eat her, so he shoves her outside to safety--and then realizes how much he misses her. After a frantic hunt for her, he goes back home to discover her there, and they decide to live together as friends. This is a heartwarming story with great tension, humor, and a satisfying emotional payoff, and it's written and illustrated beautifully.
Smallman creates instant and strong reader empathy for the lamb by making it clear that the lamb is young ("little lamb"), cold, naive (by knocking on the door of a wolf, and not running away when she sees that it's a wolf), and in potential danger from a hungry wolf. This reader empathy remains throughout the book, and is increased by discovering that the lamb is also hungry, innocent, and sweet, and in frequent, though reducing, danger from the wolf. Reader empathy is also created when the lamb is shut outside and crying for the wolf, even though the reader knows that the wolf did this to keep the lamb safe.
There is great humor in the text--such as the wolf's rationalizations and self-delusions about why he keeps treating the little lamb well ("So he gave the lamb a carrot to eat. 'Stuffing,' he said to himself.").
Smallman builds an enjoyable tension into the story right from the opening, when the reader learns that the wolf is hungry, bored of the food he eats, and specifically wanting to eat lamb, and then a lamb appears at the door. Readers may enjoy the perception of danger for the lamb, while seeing that the wolf treats the lamb well; there is a sense of safety created by the wolf's actions, rationalizations, and even his language, such as "Goodness gracious me," which sounds non-threatening. Humor also helps keep the story from becoming too scary. Readers are rewarded through the uplifting safety and friendship at the end of the story--a great payoff for the tension in the book.
Brief, paired onomatopoeia is used on almost every page until the crisis point in the book, which helps increase the enjoyment of the text, and brings a kind of sensory detail to the story ("KNOCK! KNOCK!", "BRRRR! BRRRR!" "RUMBLE! RUMBLE! RUMBLE"). There's also a pleasing and reassuring repetition of the wolf realizing he can't eat the lamb for one reason or another.
Smallman makes the lamb seem especially sweet when she snuggles up to the wolf, oblivious of any danger, and falls asleep on him. It's heartwarming when the wolf is obviously moved, keeping hold of the lamb and whispering so as not to wake her. Smallman shows the wolf's growing level of compassion and awareness when he feels funny and no longer wants to eat the lamb after she hugs him, when he snuggles with the lamb by the fire and thinks about how long it's been since anyone gave him a cuddle. This is slowly built up to, which increases reader belief. Smallman cleverly hypes up the danger, here, midway through the book; just when the reader starts to feel safe, he shows the wolf smelling the lamb, finding her smell delicious, and about to eat her. When the lamb breaks through this by waking up and kissing his cheek, then saying 'hop-pop' in an imitation of the wolf's 'hot pot', it's both endearing and a moment of relief--and the wolf's response of shoving her outside to safety shows just how much he's changed.
Smallman creates great character change in the book; the wolf starts off seeing the lamb as only dinner, then slowly unbends to the point that he cuddles with the lamb, and then becomes so concerned about her safety that he rushes her out into the cold (after wrapping her up warmly). The greatest character change comes after the wolf shoves the lamb outside and won't let her back in; suddenly he's worrying about her, instead of thinking about her as dinner or a way to keep from eating her.
Smallman creates tension again when the wolf can't find the lamb, and, worried, lists specific things that might happen to her, thus making the reader worry, as well. This makes the emotional payoff of the ending all the greater. The ending is uplifting, with the wolf offering to have the lamb live with him (the lamb doesn't have anywhere else to go), and the lamb showing that although she's young and innocent, she's smart, too--by making sure that the wolf won't eat her. Then the two of them eat vegetable soup together, bringing the story around full circle. This is an uplifting, moving story, sure to warm your heart. The story also shows the transformative power of hugs, kindness, and love, and the way they can change a hardened heart and break through walls.
Dreidemy's watercolor-and-pencil illustrations are loosely drawn and expressive, and perfectly fit the tone of Smallman's text. The illustrations are warm and friendly, with bright oranges and yellows in the backgrounds suggesting the warmth of the wolf's house sharply contrasting with the white, grey, and cold blue of the winter scenes. Whimsical details bring a sense of lightness and good feeling, such as the heart carved into the wolf's door, the winter sweater and socks that the wolf wears, and the green paw-print welcome mat outside the wolf's door.
There's a pleasing use of pattern to create texture and a friendly, whimsical feeling; spirals often appear in the wood grain, on the pottery, in the furniture, in the night sky, and even on stones. Stripes are also used in the clothing and the bottom of the lamb's shoes.
Colors are bright (especially the clothing and backgrounds), and have the lovely gradation and blending of tones that watercolor brings. Colors from the background and setting are often echoed in the characters and their shadowing, helping to visually pull each illustration together.
The lamb looks sweet, adorable, and innocent with large round eyes, a small rounded nose, soft colors blended into her coat (especially pink, purple, and blue), and the body language of a young child.
Dreidemy's illustrations help make the fox seem less scary; he wears a bright winter sweater patterned with green pine trees and green and red stripes, and colorful striped socks with holes for his toes and heels. Visually the wolf changes as his character changes; in the opening illustrations, when the wolf is thinking of eating the lamb, the wolf's teeth are quite visible, and his eyes have a horrible look as he looks at the lamb. But as the wolf starts to interact with the lamb and care for her, his eyes look surprised or worried, and grow softer and larger, and his teeth disappear. His teeth become visible again when he thinks of eating her halfway through the book--then his teeth disappear, never to be seen again, except for one illustration where two incisors are visible. The wolf looks kind and parent-like when he hugs the lamb near the end, as well as in the last illustration, as he serves her soup while wearing an apron. Body language and facial expressions are strong, and show emotion well.
The closing illustration is warm and uplifting, not only through the warm orange and yellow background, but also through the soft pink and purple that is echoed both in the wolf (in his ears) and the soup tureen the wolf is handling, and in the lamb's wool and her bib, visually tying the two characters together, and showing their unity.
This is a beautiful story that works incredibly well in both the illustrations and the text, creating a moving, heartfelt, and ultimately uplifting book.
-Added August 06, 2007
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