Babe Author Dead at 88

Babe author Dick King Smith dead at 88 years
Image courtesy of the wonderful artist Olga Gonorovsky. You can see more of her work on Facebook, or on her website at

On of my favorite movies of all time is the Children’s Classic “Babe”. The barnyard animal portrayals are all so exactly and precisely spot on what I could really imagine those creatures ‘sounding’ like that it will always embody what I think ducks must ‘talk’ like, or crotchety border collies, or cud munching cows.

Dick King-Smith was the author of “Sheep-Pig” – the original title of the book the movie “Babe” was based on. A teacher for many years, King-Smith made a failed attempt at farming, but turned his experiences into a success with his children’s books, many of which he referred to as “Farmyard fantasies”.

From the Los Angeles Times

..His most famous book was his sixth, “The Sheep-Pig,” published in England in 1983 and retitled “Babe: The Gallant Pig” when it was published in the United States in 1985. The book won the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize in 1984, with one judge declaring it “perfect.”

It’s the story of a piglet that is won at a fair by a sheep farmer and adopted by the farm’s mother sheepdog, Fly.

Trained to herd sheep by Fly, the polite Babe puts his own spin on getting sheep to obey.

“If I might ask a great favor of you, could you all please be kind enough to walk down to that gate where the farmer is standing, and to go through it? Take your time, please, there’s absolutely no rush.”

The author, who tapped his years of working with farm animals for his writing, had an affinity for pigs — despite a fondness for eating bacon.

“It’s something I may have to see my psychiatrist about, but yes, I have a real soft spot for pigs,” he told the Daily Telegraph of Sydney, Australia, in 1996. “I like pigs as friends and for their intelligence. I have always admired them.”

King-Smith, who sold the movie rights to “The Sheep-Pig” to Australian writer-producer George Miller shortly after it was published, was a fan of the Chris Noonan-directed movie.

Best Introductory Books About Dog Shows

It’s almost inevitable that, after spending time owning any one breed in particular, you may be bitten with the ‘dog show bug’. Your breeder might offer you a nice show potential puppy, or you just might decide that showing could be a fun hobby. No matter how or why you get bitten, jumping straight into the world of conformation shows is not for the faint of heart.

Like most sports, your best resource for learning about dog showing is a mentor – someone to hold your hand and guide you step by step through the process. In lieu of that, however, books can be a great crash course in learning the lingo, and getting  a feel for the lay of the land.

I asked experienced show people and breeders for their personal suggestions on the best books for true novices to read if they want to learn about dog shows.

Here are their suggestions, and mine.

Read more

Thurber and Foote – Great Writing, from Great Dog Fanciers

I have been remiss! In the recent Pet Connection blog on best beloved animal stories of all times, I forgot to mention one of my absolute favorite dog writers, John Taintor Foote, a fact I was reminded of when I picked up my dog eared copy of “Dumb Bell of Brookfield” yesterday afternoon.

Born in 1881, Taintor Foote was something of a renaissance man – an author, a screenwriter and a playwright, he had a particular interest in the so-called ‘sporting life’ – angling, hunting, horse racing and the great outdoors. His screenwriting credits were diverse, ranging from The Mark of Zorro to the Story of Seabiscuit.

I was introduced to Foote’s writing by my rather eccentric – and recently deceased uncle. He found me in his rather well stocked library one day, reading a copy of “The Water Babies” that hindsight tells me was likely a first or so edition. He walked up, removed the book from my hands, and placed it back on the shelf, and then replaced it with a volume he selected from another shelf. The book was “The Dumb-Bell of Brookfield” – not an original edition (that came out in 1917), but one published in 1922. Dumb-Bell is the story of an under sized pointer – over looked, and under valued by his owners (a couple with the rather hackneyed mannerisms of “Mervyn Lloyd and Claudette Colbert”, in the words of Foote’s son, Timothy Foote , in the introduction to the re release of his father’s stories).

Years later, an article by Vicki Hearne mentioned some of Taintor Foote’s writing on Pit Bulls, and I immediately searched out a copy of the anthology of Taintor Foote’s dog stories. “Dumb Bell of Brookfield, Pocono Shot and Other Great Dog Stories” has some phenomenal writing about sporting dogs – even a neophyte like me can tell that – but for me, Foote shines when he’s writing about “Bulldogs” (‘Bulldogs’ of course, is used in the old sense of the world, as a vernacular for what we now call Pit Bull Terriers. To quote Thurber “An American Bull, none of your English fellows”). Foote’s most famous story, after Dumb Bell, is contained in this collection. “Trub’s Diary” is written from the view point of a troublesome white Bulldog, and is one of the funniest pieces of anthropomorphic writing ever done. Foote might have written human characters that are, by today’s standards, heavy handed, but his dogs still ring true today.

Pick up the collection of Foote’s dog stories, or grab one for the sporting fan or Pit Bull lover on your list who’s hard to buy for. Oh, and fans of great horse writing will be instantly enamored of “Hoofbeats“, his collected horse stories. His tales of track life are as evocative today as they were at the beginning of last century, although the vernacular used can be difficult to get used to (and the racial slang hard to swallow).

The Thurber DogI mentioned Thurber above, and no mention of great dog writing is complete without Thurber’s name prominent on the list. I suppose that, today, he’s better known for his downtrodden men and haughty women than he is for his dogs, but the “Thurber dog”, as it was known, was once an instantly recognizable icon. Shaggy, nondescript and not prone to the pitfalls of his people, the Thurber dog was a symbol of sanity in Thurber’s chaotic world.

Thurber’s dog stories recall some of the beloved dogs of his childhood, including the stories of Rex, the decidedly non English Bulldog. Rex, who found enjoyment in dragging home items like wardrobes, once engaged in a dog fight that lasted ‘most of the day’. Thurber reminisces about this event with nostalgia, even fondness. Thurber’s “Rex, Portrait of a Dog”, remains one of my personal favorite stories of all time, of all genres, and possibly the best story even written in homage of Pit Bulls.

Thurber seemed to relish dogs that others would describe as ‘difficult’. His story about Muggs (The Dog That Bit People), affectionately tells of his family’s irascible Airedale Terrier – a dog that did, quite literally, bite people with clock work regularity. Thurber’s encounters with Muggs, seen through the lens of nostalgia, become affectionate and humorous, but he makes it clear that Rex was a danger to almost everyone around him, and his mother’s eulogy for Rex, Cave Canem, was tellingly apt.

Also in this collection is Thurber’s bitterly humorous “Lo, the Gentle Bloodhound” – his response to the ‘dangerous dog’ hysteria his time was plagued with. Hard to believe today, but in Thurber’s time, Bloodhounds were regarded as savage man killers – a left over from their days as slave tracking dogs. It’s easy to laugh about anyone regarding the mope faced Bloodhound as a threat, but consider that, in Thurber’s day, the Pit Bull was America’s classic family pet – a sort of turn of the century Golden Retriever or Lab.  Thurber regarded fear of Bloodhounds to be as ludicrous as fear of moths, or bunny rabbits, but I have no doubt he’d have regarded fear of his beloved Bulldogs as even more ridiculous.

Thurber’s Dogs” seems to be sadly out of print. As an alternative, pick up the (possibly even better) “Dog Department“, which contains not only the stories from “Thurber’s Dogs”, but also previously unpublished work. Thurber and his wife bred and showed Scottish Terriers and Standard Poodles, and his writing on them, and on dog shows, will stand the test of time as some of the best ever published. If Thurber begins to beguile you, move on to “The Thurber Carnival“, which replicates some of the work from the “Dog Department“, but also includes many of his best short stories (including Walter Mitty) and a selection of his best cartoons (Thurber dogs included).

Safer Pet Sex the French Bulldog Way

Safe Sex Spot

Recognize the dog? That’s Linus, star of Just Married, Second Hand Lions, Bringing Down the House and the Shaggy Dog. OK, maybe he wasn’t technically the star, but he was pretty much the only reason most of us bothered to watch those movies.

How about it — do you know of any movies with French Bulldogs in it that are missing from my list? How about books? Cartoons? Anything?

Thursday Thirteen – 13 Books, more or less

I’m a voracious and somewhat undisciplined reader. First off, I tend to have two or three books on the go at any one time. I’ll read bits and pieces of one, skim through another that I’ve read before, start another and decide it’s not my cup of tea. I’m a firm believer in the ‘one chapter and you’re out’ rule of reading – if the author doesn’t catch my interest within the first chapter, I move on to something else. I don’t see the point of forcing myself to read a book I’m bored by, and since I’m no longer reading for course credits, I just don’t do it.

I’m also a genre crosser – I don’t read exclusively of any one sort of literature. Science fiction, fantasy, current fiction, alternative press, old dog stories – it’s all grist for the mill. So, if you’re expecting any sort of coherence from this list, you’re going to leave disappointed.

This list is of books I’ve either just finished, am in the middle of, or am planning to read. If you have a book suggestion for me, please let me know in the comments section.



1. Dumb-Bell of Brookfield and Other Great Dog Stories, John Taintor Foote

I first encountered a dusty, mildewed copy of this book in my uncle’s extensive library, and I’ve loved it ever since. While some of the human characters might seem like caricatures to modern day readers (The Harvard sport, the African American handyman, the Claudette Colbert-esque leading lady), the dogs all ring true. I first fell in love with ‘Bulldogs’ because of Allegheny, a story of a ‘Bull Terrier pup’ out of two fighting parents. I re read this one every few years, in this case to take the after taste of “The Dogs of Bedlam Farm” out of my mouth.



2. The Dogs of Bedlam Farm, Jon Katz

I finished this book, the first by Jon Katz I’d ever read, before Luisa’s wonderful summation of his stupidity appeared on her blog. Even for a non herding person such as myself, this book disturbed me. Mr Katz is one of those inept ‘do as I say, not as I do’ trainers who seems to take pride in detailing his own ineptitude, and at times seems to expect praise for the myriad ways he let down the dogs in his care. In particular, I was baffled by his insistence that he had to clear out half his flock because ‘real farmers’ wouldn’t like him keeping more stock than he ‘needed’ (real farmers, in my experience, have more important things to worry about than what the wanna be farmer up the road is doing with his play flock – things like trying to stave off bankruptcy).



3. Coldheart Canyon, Clive Barker

Well, this was a disappointment. I love Clive Barker, and rate a few of his books (Abarat, Imajica, Weaveworld) among some of the best horror -slash- fantasy writing I’ve ever read. This book, however, felt like a mishmash of plot stories, with orgiastic ghosts, demonic tile mosaics (don’t ask) and vengeful Theda Bara esque ageless vamps. Oh, and angels, too. Maybe. Just too much going on, in too many different ways. Not his best work, by a long shot, but I’ll send this book to anyone who wants to take a crack at it, and who will post their own review in their blog. Fuzzy? You game?



4. The French Bulldog, Muriel Lee

The French Bulldog, Muriel LeeI got my copy of this book months ago, but didn’t sit down to read it until just recently – and I am so pleased that I did! Muriel has drawn on a pool of amazing talent to write (dare I say it?) the best over all guide to the breed I’ve ever read.

Her collaborators include James Grebe, Michael Rosser, Penny Rankin-Parsons, and numerous other breed specialists, all of who have helped to make this work a thorough and exhausting source of knowledge for both novice and experienced French Bulldog enthusiasts. After years of recommending Steve Eltinge’s “The French Bulldog”, it’s a relief to have an alternative to his (now out of print and ridiculously over priced on the secondary market) book. Well done, Muriel and company!



5. The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2007, edited by David Eggers

One of the literary highlights for me every year is picking up a copy of David Eggers wonderful Anthology, Best American Nonrequired Reading. This year’s copy just arrived last week, and I’m already through it. I’ll let this review sum up BANR –

“The premise is simple – San Francisco high school students scour through literary magazines, independent publications, and on-line journals for articles, stories, vignettes, and memoirs that they consider the best. They share their findings with each other and with their editor, Dave Eggers, until they’ve parsed it down to a few pieces to publish in this NonRequired Reading volume.”

A gem, as always.



6. Pushcart Prize XXXII: Best of the Small Presses, 2008 Edition

Another anthology, this one of short stories published by small presses (as opposed to the O’Henry prizes, which tend to draw from the same pool of periodicals). There is always a moment of amazement hidden within this great anthology – the feeling of discovering a new writer, on the brink of becoming great. There are also stories by established writers, waiting to give us fresh insights into what keeps them topical. My personal favorite was ‘Unassigned Territory’, by Stephanie Powell Watts. I still have half of this book to go, and am reading it in small chunks, the better and longer to savour it.



7. A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini

Like everyone else who reads, I thoroughly enjoyed Khaled Hosseini’s wonderful book ‘The Kite Runner’. I’m only a few pages into his new book, but already I’m as enraptured as I was by Kite Runner. He captures his characters and their environments with incredible deftness and a sparsity of prose that’s simply beautiful.



8. The Principles of Uncertainty, By Maira Kalman

This is an odd but lovely little book, composed of paintings that don’t illustrate the text, but in fact are the text. It’s a beautiful take on the traditional mange style of graphic novels. I’ve gotten through half of it, some of which left me simply baffled, but all of which I found lovely.



9. The House of Meetings, by Martin Amis

The premise of this book – gruff, amoral Red Army veteran looks back on the time he spent in a Russian gulag and the damage it did to his life and that of his gentler, more delicate brother Lev – is simple enough, but the prose is dense and chewy, and my brain has been too jammed full of stuff to do this book justice. I started it last fall, enjoyed it, then tossed it aside when I got caught up in other things. I’m starting it again now, and liking it even more than I did then.



10. The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, Michael Chabon

Oh, how do I love this book. I loved it the first time I read it, and I’ve just picked it up for a second go. I often do this, because I’m a greedy first reader – I gulp down the words, rushing through to the conclusion. A second reading lets me savour the words, as I am with this book. The premise – a temporary Jewish settlement is established on the Alaska panhandle for two million displaced Jews of World War 2. Fantasy? Yes, but only if you ignore the fact that Franklin Roosevelt proposed just such a solution. From there, the book segues into a Yiddish come Alaskan murder mystery. It might indeed be flawed in places, but over all this is just a great book.



11. The World Without Us, Alan Weisman

I haven’t started this one yet, but it’s on my to read list, and the premise is intriguing – if we all of us disappeared from the planet tomorrow, how long would it take for all traces of humanity to disappear? According to Weisman, the answer is ‘not long at all’. National Geographic took this concept and has turned it into a TV series, ‘Population Zero ‘. I can’t get it yet in Canada, but it looks interesting.



12. A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, Ishmael Beah

Another book waiting its turn on the bedside table, this story of a child soldier stolen from his Sierra Leone village at age twelve is on just about every top ten list of 2007. I have been waiting for a stretch of time when I have no other books on the go, so that I can do it justice.



13. The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman

I’m looking forward to this book the way that some people look forward to Christmas. Based on Gaiman’s short story, the release of this book is an event for any fan of his fiction, and I’ve already pre ordered my copy (plus a few to give as gifts!). Too bad it won’t be here until some time in September… in the meantime, rabid fans can read about the books progress, and see galleys of the cover art by Dave Mckean, over on Neil Gaiman’s blog.