This fable, or allegory – it certainly has a message – is unusually told through the experiences of a cheese, a Big Cheese. In the little village of Curds on Whey, the Big Cheese excels at everything: the most popular, best dressed, accomplished piece of cheddar. From humble beginnings as an ‘unremarkable little curd’, the Big Cheese decided to become famous by winning everything. The secret to a success was ‘sticking to the things I was good at’ even though never trying anything new became a little boring. One day, however, little Wedge comes to town – quiet, unassuming and shy – and in the Cheese-cathlon proceeds to win every prize from chess to hat making, sheep herding, bread buttering and bird calling. Desolate and furious at first, the Big Cheese gradually feels a sense of relief as the world hasn’t come to an end because of not being the great champion. On the way home he spots Wedge and spends time chatting, finding out his life story, eventually realising that losing has taught empathy and humility and that it’s not only possible to live with defeat but that cheering on friends’ successes can be as pleasurable as winning oneself.
The Big Cheese is the seventh in the Food Group series of books created by Jory John and Pete Oswald. With language that doesn’t patronise a young reader the story is a straightforward moral tale, although it may be quite hard to take the message that losing can be good for you! Dominated by yellow cheeses, the witty artwork emphasises the emotions of the central character throughout the journey towards greater humility and a more fulfilled life, and the images of the different competitions in the Cheese-cathlon are a delight as well as the depictions of the different cheese characters, all celebrated in the endpapers, including cheese strings. Readers from 5 years upwards will not only enjoy naming the different cheeses but will also relish joining in with some of the repetitive parts: ‘The Big Cheese, Ta-Da, You’d better believe it’ and through enjoying the book may perhaps come to see that it isn’t always necessary to win to be happy.
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