SPIDER SPARROW By Dick King-Smith Crown 128 pp., $16.95 Ages 9-12
Dick King-Smith, author of "Babe: The Gallant Pig," is known for the humanist touch in his writings about animals. In "Spider Sparrow," that love for animals shines through again as he pens a tender portrait of a young boy and the folks on a small farming community in rural England.
Tom Sparrow, a shepherd on Outoverdown farm, finds an abandoned baby in one of his lambing pens early one morning. He feeds the baby some milk out of a bottle just used to nurse an orphan lamb, and confides to his dog that he "shoulda loved a son." He and his wife adopt the baby when no mother is found.
At an early age, John Joseph Sparrow earns the nickname "Spider" for the strange way he "scurried about on hands and feet" instead of crawling or walking. He slowly learns to say just a few words and phrases, and he is not allowed to attend school. But what really sets Spider apart from others is his ability to imitate exactly the sounds of animals.
Though his differences make people uncomfortable, animals are unafraid of Spider. He feeds a fox out of his hand, watches an otter family hunt in the river, rescues a fallen horseman from a herd of wild horses, and eventually tames these horses.
What is most touching about this book is the gentle way that the farm community learns to accept, admire, and even love this child. Spider reaches young adulthood as World War II begins, and other folks learn through the tragic circumstances of their young enlisted sons that Spider's parents are, indeed, blessed to have him.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society