Dick King-Smith is indeed the king of animal stories for young readers. Before Babe: The Gallant Pig became a hit movie, the tale was one of King-Smith's many beloved books about animals. In his newest, Titus Rules!, it's time for dogs (corgis to be precise) to get the royal treatment.
The author's love of animals can be traced to his childhood in England, where he grew up surrounded by pets. In a recent interview, King-Smith calculated that he's kept up to 16 different kinds of animals at a time, including rabbits, goats, cats, geese, dogs, ducks, mice and, of course, pigs! A farmer for 20 years before becoming a writer, he now lives in a small 17th-century cottage. He and his wife have three children, 12 grandchildren and one great-grandchild, so there are definitely enough young readers around waiting to be pleased by grandpa's latest story.
And they will certainly be delighted with this humorous, tongue-in-cheek look at what really goes on in Buckingham Palace. Queen Elizabeth (called Madge by her husband, Prince Philip, which, of course is short for "Your Majesty") is very fond of her corgis. But on his first visit to the palace, the pup, Titus, quickly learns the true state of affair the dogs call the Queen their servant. A servant, as Titus' mother explains, is someone who "looks after you, does whatever he or she is told, and fetches and carries." And one of the Queen's most important jobs is to bring custard creams to her corgis.
There are certain rules, of course, and Titus is careful not to break them. So when the Queen catches sight of the newest addition to her pack of 10 dogs doing his business properly on the grass (and not on her carpet), she is distinctly impressed. Titus becomes a favorite, just in time to become a hero and thwart a robbery by one of the footman.
With lively, humorous illustrations, this short-chapter book is perfect for young readers who love dog stories. They'll learn a little about Great Britain along the way, too, although if they ever do get a chance to meet the Queen it's probably not a good idea to call her Madge or ask for a custard cream!
Deborah Hopkinson's new books for young readers in 2003 include Our Kansas Home and Girl Wonder: A Baseball Story in Nine Innings.