Nancy Shaw, Sheep Take a Hike (Houghton Mifflin, 1994)
On the road again… just can’t wait to get on the road again…
photo credit: indiebound.org
The thing about Sheep in a Jeep, ultimately, that makes it work as well as it does, and it works very well indeed, is the language. It is basic, it is easily remembered by both adults and children alike, and it is very well-constructed and well-presented. There’s nothing in Sheep in a Jeep that feels like Shaw was stretching in order to fit the parameters of either the story she was telling or the educational goals she had set for herself. As a result, the story is a resounding success, and all of the other great things about the book are kind of icing on the cake. Sheep Take a Hike is the exact opposite. The illustrations are just as wonderful, maybe even more so, and the story is fun, but the language at the core of it is not as well constructed, nor as well presented, and more than once it feels exactly like Shaw was stretching in order to twist where she wanted to go in order to fit it into the parameters—both those mentioned above and the parameters that she’s set for herself in the first book (the two are very strongly similar rhythmically). As much as I hate to say it given that the original is one of the best children’s books ever written, this is a noticeably inferior product.
All that having been said, it’s still the same lovable band of sheep, and if you discount the language issues that will have readers stumbling in certain parts the first few times through (though one will adapt pretty quickly), there is still a good deal about this book to like, and I ran through most of it above. Here, the illustrations are the kicker, and they are, not surprisingly, wonderful. So I’m certainly not going to say “you don’t want to read this one to your kid”, especially if you (and said kid) love the first one. But get it out of the library first to see whether it’s going to stand up to the same repeated readings the initial book does. ** ½