Reviews /

The Crocodile Who Came For Dinner

Authored by Steve Smallman
Illustrated by Joelle Dreidemy
Published by Little Tiger Press

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A touching story about friendship and overcoming prejudice, this book has instant appeal. The premise of a lamb named Hotpot who is friends with a wolf both amused and intrigued me. From the first page, where they howl together at the moon, text and illustration combine to create a very endearing duo.

Their unlikely friendship has been established over a risky meal encounter in The Lamb Who Came for Dinner. It seems to be in danger once more when they find an unusual egg and Wolf wants to cook it. With Hotpot’s help, he resists this initial temptation and they name the resultant crocodile Omelette. Omelette is ‘noisy, and messy and nibbly’ but also utterly delightful, to readers as well as to Hotpot and Wolf.

Badger, however, is more wary and issues ominous warnings about the new arrival. Might he after all be right? The front cover does show Omelette’s jaws about to close over some unsuspecting chicks. As the situation unfolds, there is a moment of real uncertainty. For children, there will be enough peril for the resolution to be a relief. However, as the blurb reminds us, ‘Perhaps the real danger is judging a book by its cover’.

The message of the book – the importance of overcoming stereotypes – is clear but not obtrusively so. The partnership of author and illustrator works wonderfully well. Smallman’s text is witty and engaging; Dreidemy’s bright, humorous illustrations have rich details and will repay subsequent readings. Children can enjoy this book by itself as a stand-alone, but they will also love the fact that it is part of a series, with each book featuring familiar characters and the same reassuring ambience.

The story will be a valuable addition to a KS1 classroom. Full of snappy (!) dialogue, it reads aloud extremely well and should prompt interesting discussions about prejudice and points of view. Children will make predictions spontaneously because the text and the page breaks invite speculation. Readers will also love the central characters. Older children might be more likely to question the plausibility of a friendly crocodile (not to mention wolf/lamb partnership). This need not – indeed, does not – affect pleasure in the story itself, but could be counter-productive if it detracts from the message about overcoming prejudice. For younger children, who are the ideal audience here, this is an endearing, entertaining, empowering tale with the capacity to build empathy and understanding.