Long ago, Bray Valley lost its sheep to a wolf when an irresponsible shepherd got himself into trouble with the villagers. Betsy, Bray Valley’s newest graduate from Shepherd School, would never be so foolish. But while she’s determined to be the best shepherd her village has ever seen, the very hungry Zimmo the wolf has a cunning plan of his own. Step one: discredit Betsy by hiding whenever she cries “Wolf!” Step two: eat the sheep. Can Betsy come up with a better plan before Bray Valley finds itself wool-less once again?
She can. In fact, in Betsy Red Hoodie, Zimmo is Bray Valley’s second shepherd. When Betsy is sent to visit her grandma with a basketful of cupcakes, though, she’s warned to leave Zimmo behind. “Wolves aren’t good for grandmas,” as everyone knows. Still, Zimmo has proven himself a kind wolf, and a good shepherd, so Betsy invites him to come. It isn’t long before Zimmo runs off ahead, however, and Betsy starts to wonder whether she’s judged him wrong after all.
Though the Betsy stories draw heavily on their predecessors, each is an entirely new story that both children and adults are likely to enjoy. Levine and Nash work well together: Levine provides the foundation stories, and adds her own dash of humour via place names like Soakenwetz River and Slippenfall Hill. Nash’s illustrations, full of witty, anthropomorphised sheep, interpret the stories in ways that repeatedly catch the reader by surprise. Watch especially for Bo Peep Gas in the village, sheep that mimic human scenes, and a hunter who leaves tradition in the dust. My favourite bit is the way the sheep in Betsy Red Hoodie arrive for their trek to grandma’s house kitted out in hats, packs, and hiking boots that indicate a variety of sheepish personalities.