The Water Horse

by Dick King-Smith (1990)

An Intro and Sweet Spot selection.

Dick King-Smith is probably best known as the author of Babe: The Gallant Pig, the story that went on to be a Hollywood movie. But, he has a large canon of delightful books with animals – real and fantastical. The Water Horse is a mischievous romp and another animal lovers’ delight. King-Smith is a natural story teller, and this tale has the easy feel of a well-loved folk tale.

The Water Horse is a mystical tale set in Scotland 1930s. King-Smith draws readers in right from the start, peppering the story with authentic Scottish details. After a powerful storm, Kirstie and her little brother, Angus, find a mysterious egg on the beach. They bring it home, secretly put it in the bathtub…and the mystery grows from there. With help from Grumble, their crusty curmudgeon of a grandfather, they care from Crusoe, the water horse that hatched in the tub.

Grumble emerges from his cantankerous shell to direct the care of Crusoe. Indeed, he is the first to determine what the creature is.

“Always there’ve been tales of sightings of such a beastie, sometimes at sea, more often in a loch,” said Grumble. “Oh, when I was a boy, how I longed to see the kelpie.”

The story becomes both suspenseful and loveable as the children determine what course is best for Crusoe. Finally, he gets too big to be cared for by the family and they must spirit him away to a larger home. The children wonder what will happen if other people see him. Father reassures them, saying:

“They’ll think to themselves, oh, maybe it was just a log of wood or shadows on the water or salmon leaping or otters playing or a dead stag floating among the waves. They’ll never be sure. We are the only people who will ever know for certain that in that loch there lives the Water Horse.”

At 120 pages with illustrations sprinkled throughout, The Water Horse makes for a fine introduction to reading aloud as a family. Children’s eyes will dance at the humorous prose and widen at the developing suspense. Invite a legendary kelpie into your classroom and your students’ homes. Who wouldn’t love their very own Loch Ness monster as a one-of-a-kind, friendly, mythological pet?

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