Friday 2 August 2019

Nursery Crimes: The Fleeced Fleece

Nursery Crimes: Case 1 by John Barwick, illustrated by Dave Atze (Big Sky Publishing) PB RRP ISBN 9781925675993

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Here’s a book for children aged 7 to 11 which is a re-imagining of the favourite nursery rhyme, ‘Baa Ba Black Sheep’. Its narrator is pompous and rather unpleasant as he/she first conducts a long-winded conversation with a reader who wants the narrator to get on with the story, implying that it’s ‘much more sinister’ than can be imagined.

There are numerous characters in the story, not the least of whom is Baa Ba, a black sheep owned by wealthy Farmer Fred. Baa Ba is shorn twice a year but this year Fred is ‘not his usual cheerful self’: he’s just returned from a cruise and is pre-occupied,. Baa Ba and Shaun Gently (his shearer) observe Fred giving bags of wool to the usual suspects – the headmaster, Stern Teaser, the dame, Dame Horrida Longbottom, and Theodore Thumpnose, who lives down the lane. All three people are depicted as unsavoury characters.

What happens next is the entrance of other nursery rhyme characters (Little Miss Muffet and Little Bo Peep) and some house breaking. A potential crime is averted and the story ends.

This is a clever twist in the story of Baa Ba Black Sheep, notwithstanding the now and again back-and-forth dialogue between the narrator and reader which can be irritating as it disturbs the flow of story action.

The book’s illustrations, in black and white, feature cartoonish characters and add to the humour of the book.

At the end of the book under the line ‘Every Rhyme Masks a Crime!’ there are indications that there are more of these books in a series based on other nursery rhyme characters such as Little Bo Peep and Pussy Cat, Pussy Cat.

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