cover image The Water Horse

The Water Horse

Dick King-Smith. Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, $16 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-517-80026-3

Tweaking Scottish legend, King-Smith (Babe: The Gallant Pig) fabricates a just-shy-of-believable fantasy about the origins of the Loch Ness monster. The story, set in the early 1930s, begins as eight-year-old Kirstie finds what looks like an oversize fish egg washed up on the seashore after a violent storm. She and her younger brother Angus tote it home, and next morning out hatches an odd-looking creature that their grandfather informs them is a kelpie, or water horse, a staple of Scottish folklore. Thanks in part to a steady supply of sardines and chocolate chip cookies, the ""beastie"" grows by leaps and bounds, dwarfing the family's bathtub, goldfish pond and a nearby lake, and in the end is transported secretly to his final home (which King-Smith refrains from naming until the very end). Told partly from the kelpie's point of view, the story perks along with seeming effortlessness. The cozy domestic formula that has worked well for King-Smith in other venues translates smoothly to this setting, and the author again achieves just the right balance between action, snappy dialogue and deft characterization. Illustrations not seen by PW. Ages 8-10. (Sept.)