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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Betsy Red Hoodie, written by Gail Carson Levine and illustrated by Scott Nash. Harper, 2010. $18.99 ages 5 and up

"Beyond the farm a ram strayed from the path. Zimmo herded him and came back with daisies. He gave Betsy the daisies and ran for more.
Betsy and the sheep picked daisies too.

The two shepherds led the sheep to Highanddry Slope.
A hunter stepped out of a thicket.
Betsy jumped in front of Zimmo. "We're the shepherds
of Bray Valley."

The hunter lowered his rifle."

Well, it might seem to take a page from Little Red Riding Hood, but only a few of the elements are similar. There is a young girl (nine now and old enough to run errands for her mother) who wears a red hoodie. There is a wolf, but he's a shepherd and the girl's best pal. There is a grandma who lives in a darkened house in the forested valley.

And, there are sheep. We know we're going to love them right from the start...literally. The endpapers offer an opportunity to get to know those sheep better, through speech bubbles and animated conversation:

"Every day is the same.
We never go anyplace new.
The shepherds won't take us.
My wool is itchy.
One of the shepherds may be a wolf.
I want to be a wolf someday."

They are wearing an assortment of hats, work boots, and one is strumming a guitar. Who can resist them?

Betsy is given the task of taking cupcakes to her Grandma. As she makes preparations, she becomes concerned for her sheep as she is one of the shepherds of Bray Valley. Her mother encourages her to take them for the exercise. At the moment that she releases them from their pen, Zimmo shows up. Zimmo is the wolf, and the second shepherd. Betsy recognizes that a wolf could be a threat to her grandma...she heard a story once. But, he begs and he pleads with her to let him go along. Zimmo has an upstanding record, and has never harmed anyone. So, she agrees. There are warnings but they seem unfounded. Off they go to Grandma's house, the sheep filling every spare moment with one comment after another.

When Zimmo rushes ahead of them off into the woods and does not respond to Betsy's 'wolf whistle', she becomes concerned for her grandmother's welfare. The sheep have questions:

"What do grandmas look like?
They have big eyes, the better to see you with.
They have long arms, the better to hug you with.
They are long in the tooth, the better to chew with."

And wolves? Well, 'they look a lot like grandmas!'

Zimmo is long gone and Betsy is frantic to get the sheep hurrying along. One disaster after another slows their progress. Finally, they see the house...all in darkness! Oh my, what has happened there?

No spoiler here from me! I can tell you that I will be sharing this book in many classrooms and loving every minute of will the audience.

Scott Nash does a masterful job of matching his characters to the tone of  the story and making them such an integral part of the fun to be had. The sheep are decked out for visiting, full of expression and consistently entertaining to their audience.  The ever changing design offers full page spreads, panels, insets and speech balloons that provide hilarity at every turn...even on the back cover!

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