Kidlit report: Never Tease a Weasel, and Danny the Champion of the World

Among the giant pile of books we currently have checked out of the library are these two, both of which are skating close to five stars for me.


This is a terrific picture book. Never Tease a Weasel, by Jean Conder Soule, illustrated by George Booth. The text is a children’s book classic; this illustrator is new.

A simple little rhyming advice book, in which each verse ends with “But never tease a weasel. […] The weasel will not like it/ And teasing isn’t nice!”

The words are simple enough for a good emergent reader to have a go at almost all of the book, but it doesn’t come across as a “Dick and Jane” at all. Nor is the tone lecturing, despite the theme.

Every ink drawing is absurd and amusing. The illustrations complement the text aptly, with the animals looking awkward and unimpressed by the anthropomorphic “favours” suggested in the text.

The first verse and chorus:

You could knit a kitten mittens
And perhaps that cat would purr.
You could fit a fox with socks
That exactly matched his fur.
You could make a goat a coat
With a collar trimmed in mink;
Or give a pig a wig
In a dainty shade of pink.

But never tease a weasel;
This is very good advice.
A weasel will not like it –
And teasing isn’t nice!

…and it goes on in that vein. Great fun to at least age six, and possibly well beyond.

Picture 1

The Lad is at that lovely age where we can enjoy both picture books and read-aloud chapter books or anthologies equally. On the go right now are two Goosebumps books, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the Princess Bride, the Secret Garden, a Peter Jennings short story book, one of the later Narnias, and possibly some others I’ve forgotten.

We just finished reading Danny, the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl. As a child, I had no idea how subversive and anticapitalist it is.

[cut just in case you’re really that spoiler-allergic!]

I just loved the image of the pheasants THUMP!ing down out of the trees, doped out of their tiny little minds on sleeping-pill-stuffed raisins. And giggled at the idea of “poacher’s bottom”.

But on a re-read, the idea of the poor mechanic, the village doctor, the local policeman, and the vicar’s wife all happily poaching what they needed from the uber-rich douchebag Victor Hazell, and sharing the pheasants amongst themselves fairly and happily, warms the cockles of my heart. The book is thoroughly anticapitalist at its centre. And at the end, despite the fact that they’ve pulled off a poaching over a hundred pheasants*, the plot still finds a way to have the protagonists take only what they need.

DtCotW reads a little differently from the other Dahl books. It is quieter, calmer, more flowing. There is little gimmickry, and no special effects.

The descriptions of the landscapes bring to mind the Moomin books. The descriptions manage to be intensely evocative, but with simple language that a quite young reader could manage.

I also have a soft spot for the models of masculinity, of father-son love in the story. Their relationship is gentle and powerful. Danny’s dad happily and unselfconsciously addresses him “my love”. He treats him as the competent, interesting human being he is, allowing him appropriate levels of freedom to explore the world and to take risks. Both openly admit that they love each other to pieces and like nothing more than spending time with each other, sitting on the platform of their little wooden caravan and talking about the world.

Essential childhood – and adulthood – reading. Don’t miss.

And while I’m here, can I give a noisy “Huzzah!!” for the public library system? It’s bloody marvellous.

* Plus, I found out that the Lad can now accurately subtract 120 pheasants from 200 pheasants in his head, using only fingers for props. Who knew?

Categories: arts & entertainment, education, ethics & philosophy

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11 replies

  1. I’m a big fan of Roald Dahl and have been reading Danny to my two children. I also like the advice he gives to children reading the book (or having it read to them) that children need a parent who is ‘Sparky’ and I have remembered that advice from when I first read the book aged 10. I have tried to be as ‘Sparky’ as I can for my own children.
    Grendels last blog post..Social Glue

  2. Related: Hilaire Belloc’s caution about porcupines.

    What! Would you slap a Porcupine?
    Unhappy child, desist!
    Alas that any friend of mine
    Should turn Tupto-Philist.
    To strike the meanest and the least
    Of creatures is a sin,
    How much more bad to beat a beast
    With prickles on its skin.

  3. I have problems with Dahl’s treatment of women in a lot of his books (The Witches, anyone? George’s Marvellous Medicine?) but yes, Danny is absolutely charming. Much love.
    Anyone ever read his collection The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More? My favorite work by him, but for adults. I haven’t read it since I was, oh, twelve, but The Swan still stands out in my mind as one of the very best short stories I’ve read, ever.

  4. Yay, Danny the Champion of the World! One of my favourite books as a kid, and if I recall the movie with Jeremy Irons as the dad wasn’t half bad either.

  5. His portrayals of girls are generally okay though – the girl (who’s name escapes me!) in the BFG was plucky and smart, and quite fabulous.

  6. I haven’t read that one, Quixotess, but I’m putting it on my list.
    Totally agree that he can’t write women, and had some major racial issues (CatCF) and fat-hate; but when he sticks to the simpler tales of boys and men, as in Danny, I think it comes together for him.
    Girls don’t seem to feature much in the books I’ve read. The girls in Chocolate Factory were horrible, of course, but no more so than the boys.

  7. But at least he wrote Matilda, and that is great for girls. I’m an absolute RD fan, his faults are minor compared to ZILLIONS of bad children’s writers. Fantastic Mr Fox is also brilliant for anti-capitalism as well.

  8. Oh, I’d forgotten Matilda! Yes, that does rather make up for a lot.

  9. His portrayals of girls are generally okay though – the girl (who’s name escapes me!) in the BFG was plucky and smart, and quite fabulous.

    Sophie, I believe. Yes, she was lovely. I think Dahl does better with girls than he does with women.

    I haven’t read that one, Quixotess, but I’m putting it on my list.

    Ooooooooh, please yes do!

  10. The grandmother in The Witches was absolutely lovely though (as far as I recall – it’s a while since I read it).
    And as a child the BFG annoyed me, because in it the BFG claims humans are the only animals who kill each other – which of course is a load of hooey – and I felt as though Dahl was trying to make us feel guilty for being human. But I too loved Danny the Champion of the World, and Matilda, and James and the Giant Peach.

  11. And I am totally off RIGHT NOW to re-read the Secret Garden.

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