Babe, the Gallant Pig by Dick King-Smith

Jun 19, 2014

I keep a running list of children's chapter books on Goodreads that I want to read to my kids. These are books that I heard about on another blog or from a friend or in a book. Many of them I have not read before, so there are some I won't actually end up reading to my kids. (After I check them out from the library, I usually give unfamiliar titles a quick preview, which means some books get sent straight back.)

When we are nearing the end of a book, I get the fun task of deciding what we're going to read next. Many times, I let Aaron and Max help me by giving them a choice of three different books. Sometimes my decision is totally random: I suddenly remember a book from my childhood, and the next day I have it from the library. Sometimes it's more laborious: I consult my list and read plot summaries and check out a few in case a couple of them are bombs. And sometimes, as in the case of Babe, it's a combination: I put this book on my list months ago, but it wasn't until a passing comment from someone that I remembered about it and got it from the library.

And now that you know more than you ever wanted to about my book-selection method, let me tell you about this delightful book.

Farmer Hogget raises sheep, not pigs. He really has no interest in pigs. But at the county fair, he walks past a squealing piglet in a cardboard box. For ten pence, he can take a guess at the piglet's weight. Farmer Hogget doesn't want to win the pig, but he lifts up the little animal anyway. The pig stops squealing, and the two of them lock eyes. Farmer Hogget decides to make a guess. At the end of the day, he finds out he won the pig.

Fly is a sheepdog and not a bad one either. She has a low opinion of pigs (and sheep), but she takes an instant liking to the pig Farmer Hogget brings home. She finds out his name is Babe and offers to look after him. Babe follows her around everywhere, and Farmer Hogget soon notices that Babe acts more like a dog than a pig. Just for fun, Fly begins teaching Babe some tricks of the sheep herding trade. In spite of his short legs and awkward physique, Babe has a natural talent with the sheep (but mostly because he has good manners). Farmer Hogget is amazed with Babe's abilities, and after Babe proves his loyalty and skills on a couple of occasions, Farmer Hogget decides to do something daring and enters Babe in the Grand Challenge Sheepdog Trials.

After finishing the book, we decided to watch the movie for family night. I knew Aaron and Maxwell would love it (and they did), but I was surprised how much more I liked the book (especially since the movie was part of my childhood, and the book was not).

The book had a simple innocence about it that was missing from the movie. There wasn't any of the contrived humor with Ferdinand the duck. The drama between Rex and Fly and Babe was missing (because Rex didn't exist in the book). And Duchess the cat was (thankfully) not a part of the cast. (James Cromwell as Arthur Hogget was amazing in the film, but that was because he perfectly embodied the Farmer Hogget from the book.) I'm not saying those weren't perfectly acceptable additions to the movie; certainly, the pacing of a film requires a little more action and drama. But if I had to choose which was a more enjoyable way for me to spend my time, I'd say the book, no question.

(I also loved Babe's character more in the book. He is so naive and sweet right from the beginning. The movie makes him a little more mischievous.)

In spite of its quiet simplicity, there are three really gripping scenes: when Babe saves the sheep from the rustlers, when Babe saves them again, this time from wild dogs (and then almost gets blamed for Ma's death), and the Grand Challenge Sheepdog Trials. Even though these incidents were still narrated in a  mild way, the boys and I were riveted the entire time while making guesses as to the various outcomes. The most poignant scene for me was when Farmer Hogget thinks Babe has killed Ma. He knows he can't have a pig on the farm who thinks it's fun to torment the sheep. He has no idea how heartbroken Babe actually is over Ma's death. And the truth is, Hogget has grown quite fond of Babe. Fly is equally surprised and confused and angry over Babe's supposed betrayal and is determined to get to the bottom of it (even if it means saying "please" to a sheep). The emotions of everyone involved make this an extremely tense scene. When Farmer Hogget's wife calls out to him about the reports of wild dogs, the boys and I breathed a sigh of relief along with the characters in the book. It was just really well-written.

You know how I feel about endings, and I'm sure many of you feel the same way: a bad ending can totally ruin an otherwise good book. Babe not only has a perfect ending, but its last line might well be one of my favorite last lines in literature. Farmer Hogget, amidst the amazed cheers of the crowd, maintains his calm demeanor and says, "That'll do, Pig. That'll do." Those are the same words the movie chose to end with, and I'm so glad that out of all the things they decided to change, the last line was not one of them. Sometimes authors try to make too much of the ending. They try to make sure every character has a final word and that there's a combined feeling of fanfare and closure. But here, Dick King-Smith struck the perfect chord: there's a sense of finality and satisfaction in those last words without losing any of the simplistic charm of the rest of the book. Beautiful.

I see that Dick King-Smith wrote an impressive number of books before his death in 2011. Has anyone read anything else by him? We are definitely excited to check out some of them in the near future.


  1. Thanks for including a link to your to-read with kids list. I collect to-read recommendations like crazy! I did a quick search on your blog and didn't see a mention so I thought I'd suggest The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease (maybe you do know about it?). The earlier chapters talk about reading-aloud and seem right in line with your blog; the later half has a treasury with book suggestions, summaries, etc.

    Last week I read Babe to my youngest last week. We loved it too and have the movie on hold. Another Dick King-Smith we all enjoyed was Martin's Mice, a cat who doesn't want to kill or eat mice but keep them for pets.

  2. I just got a copy of this the other day! I remember loving the movie when I was growing up, so I am so glad the book doesn't disappoint.


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