When is it ok to teach your kid to kill animals?

posted in: 2011, Sue Hendra | 14

If you were reading Playing by the book earlier in the week, you might be concerned where this post is going. Let me assure you, M’s game of burying dead animals has not reached such heights she is now looking to create her own supply of animals in need of funerals. No, nothing of this sort. But if you are a Buddhist, then I do apologise before I go any further.

I love to garden. We grow increasingly more of our own fruit and vegetables and it’s a delight the kids revel in too. There are few things they enjoy more than digging in our borders, planting seeds, even weeding! So from an early age M and J have both know what I consider the best thing to do when anyone comes across a slug in the garden. Just like me, they’ll put it on a hard surface and give it a good stamp. I’m afraid that in my book the only good slug is a dead slug.

Photo: photogirl7.1

Thus imagine my despair when the kids discovered Norman the Slug with a Silly Shell by Sue Hendra and suddenly started telling me how cute slugs were, how wonderful, how lovely, how funny. Uh Oh, I thought. What is this book that may well have brought an end to their slug stamping days?

Sue Hendra’s book makes out that slugs are funny, creative, imaginative creatures. Not only that, they have aspirations: Norman is a slug who wants more from life – he wants to be a snail.

And to be a snail he needs a shell. Norman looks everywhere for a shell just right for him but nothing quite works. The ball he straps to his back is too bouncy, the apple he tries on already has a resident. Then he spies a pink doughnut covered in sprinkles. He straps it on his back and it’s perfect. Norman looks quite the part and the snails in his garden are full of admiration.

Suddenly a bird dives out of the sky intent on – no not eating the snails – but gobbling up Norman’s good looking shell. As Norman is whisked higher and higher into the air he realises he has to do whatever it takes to be released. Within seconds he is producing industrial quantities of slug slime (my girls can barely look at this page, it repulses them so!) and as Norman falls back to earth his dreams take a new turn – no more a longing for a shell, but rather for wings to be able to fly.

Norman somehow survives his fall from the sky and all ends well with the last spread of the book – Norman has once again been inventive and his dreams have come true. He’s flying with the most wonderful pair of wings you can imagine (though if you can guess what they are made of before you read the book I salute you) – Icarus, it’s time to move over, Norman is the new kid on the block with the imagination, optimism (and soupçon of luck) needed to make dreams come true.

I’m sure my girls first picked up Norman the Slug with a Silly Shell because it looks so appealing – intense, saturated colours with just a dash of glittery printing, the front cover is indeed the bookish equivalent of a sweet shop window. The bold, graphic design style images make it easy to imagine these illustrations being adapted for a TV animation.

The story is a wonderful mix of optimism and humour, pulled back from being too cloying (just like a sickly sweet) with the perfect dash of yuck factor. This book is full of quirky, lighthearted fun, a sweet treat to read and a bit of colourful fun whilst waiting for the winter gloom to lift.

This book was begging us to create our own Normans, and here’s what we did.

We bought some ring doughnuts and covered them in pink icing and sprinkles.

Once dry, we completed our slugs-determined-to-be-snails with cocktail sticks and sweets (a couple of hidden cocktail sticks were used to attach the “shell” to the “body” of each slug).

And then the best bit – we got to eat them! (Although the thought of eating a slug makes my stomach churn…)

A supremely simple (and delicious) activity!

Norman the Slug with a Silly Shell: ** (2 out of 3 stars)

Whilst making our own Norman we listened to:

  • The Mustard Slugs by Gustafer Yellowgold (found via Zooglobble)
  • Find more artists like Gustafer Yellowgold at Myspace Music

  • Speedy the Snail by Shel Silverstein and Pat Dailey, with its nice little bilingual joke.

  • Snail Song from The Sippy Cups

  • Who knew gastropods could inspire such great kids’ music?

    For something a little more surreal you could listen to Donut Brain Aliens by Dirty Sock Funtime Band!

    The Dirty Sock Funtime Band “Donut Brain Aliens” from Snap Films on Vimeo.

    Other activities which could be enjoyed alongside reading Norman the Slug with a Silly Shell include:

  • Gathering snail shells from your garden and then using beeswax to create their bodies, taking inspiration from this post from Frontier Dreams

  • Eating snails (with their own slime trail…. eurggh!) made from hotdogs – what a great idea for supper from Little Nummies!

  • Make your own slug slime with these instructions from Unplug Your Kids 🙂

  • As to the future of fate of slugs in our garden? Will the kids now be building slug sanctuaries and feeding them my prize plants? Only time will tell. We’re still very much in the depths of winter here, so thoughts of hours spent in the garden planting seeds and seedlings are still the stuff of my dreams, but come March, who knows? Will I be ruing the day I let Norman the Slug with a Silly Shell into our home?

    On a far less worrying note, I’ll be returning next week with another British book before continuing with our literary exploration around Europe. Hope to see you there!

    14 Responses

    1. Choxbox


      I am taking the risk of being totally honest and answering your Q in the post title – in my books, never!

      For instance, we don’t kill mosquitoes even in these parts – just take lots of preventive measures – keeping the drains/water outlets obsessively clean, mesh doors on all windows, burning special herbs in the house since the smole drives them away, using mosquito nets etc.

      But hey that was an interesting review, thanks as usual!

      • Zoe

        Hi Choxbox! I really appreciate your honesty! I did hesitate when I chose my title because I didn’t want to offend anyone and I know other people have very different opinions to me on this. Your answer gives a peek into a different way of viewing the world and that’s what I really like about it.

    2. sandhya

      What a delightful book! Should cater wonderfully to kids who are less squeamish than their parents anyway! Why else would they love to muck around, or read disgusting descriptions in books like those by Dr Seuss or Roald Dahl with such fascination?:):)

      • Zoe

        Hi Sandhya, well one of the things that amazed me about this book was how someone was able to write such a delightful book about what I consider to be a rather yucky creature. I don’t think Sue Hendra, the author, can be a gardener given she’s been able to conjour up such sympathy for these gastropods!

    3. sandhya

      As a response to your answer, AND the title to your post, I’ll say that both A and her father are real softies, or may I say that they have a high regard for life of any kind, and would rather flick out-of-doors an annoying insect or a critter of any sort than kill it. Even slugs etc. from the garden are picked up carefully and thrown out where they may survive in wilder surroundings. A once picked up a butterfly from our drive and put it on a shrub nearby as she was worried some vehicle or some-one’s foot may crush it. I’m the hard-hearted one in the family and the one who takes a broom or an insecticide spray for cockroaches and the like! See this post-http://arightowrite.blogspot.com/2011/01/besieged-by-rat.html 🙂

      • Zoe

        I have to say Maggy, they were pretty delicious! (Much more so than the slug I once gave my little sister to eat telling her it was a half sucked fruit pastille… terrible big sister that I was)

    4. sophie

      As a french girl, I have to say that I do not like eating snails…worse, I’ve never tried and feel disgusted about this…
      My mother is a snail/slug murderer(but she does not eat any), she is in the camp of salads…and I try to moderate her when she is with my son…but I have to recognise it’s easier with a snail than with a slug. poor slug…It’s good such a poor creature can have a dedicated lovely book…

    5. Ali B

      Ooh, this is a tricky one. Where I grew up, on the outskirts of London, there were lots of farms, especially sheep and pig farms. Almost our entire garden grew vegetables, salad and fruit. I grew up knowing exactly where meat came from, and if slugs and snails ate our salad, or birds ate our fruit, there would be none for us… so I guess it is never too early to have these discussions. Also, death is a natural part of life (one reason why I think having a pet is so good for a child). I suppose it is useful to discuss that any control measures shouldn’t prolong suffering? Loved the donut slugs too!

      • Zoe

        Hi Ali, yes, I agree with you that death is very much a part of life – that’s why even though there was no “need” i was more than happy to read the Ulf Nilsson books I reviewed yesterday with M and J. I don’t think there should be any taboo surrounding death. I don’t know anything about how long it takes a slug to die but hopefully stamping doesn’t prolong the death throws!

    6. Becky (Book Reviews for Mums)

      ooh life long veggie with veggie kids here. Slugs are icky but have to save them! Even just had to spend a bomb on vegetraian ballet shoes for my 3 year old (I kid you not!!) but horses for courses. i would have eaten your creations though!

      • Zoe

        Hi Becky, They were delicious I have to admit. And it would have been lovely to share them with you over a cup of tea!

    Leave a Reply to Zoe Cancel reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    CommentLuv badge

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.