Highway Robbery by Kate Thompson (2008)
Here's a cheeky little story, just right for reading aloud, or for reading together. I promise you, you'll never guess the ending, and when you do get there, it'll make you smile.
You're really just listening in to a long tale, told by a young beggar boy on the street. He's telling his story to a gentleman, who perhaps didn't realize he was going to be standing there for such a long time:
There are good things and bad things about being small. You wouldn't know about that, though, would you, sir? Fine tall gentleman like yourself. But it's true. One good thing is that people often mistake me for being much younger than I am, and that makes them take pity on me. Especially the women, the ones that have their own children at home. And especially the poor ones, who know that there isn't much keeping their own little ones from begging in the streets like me. Not that I'm begging now, sir. I wouldn't want you to think that, not for a minute.
Well, maybe there's a clue there but I didn't notice it on first reading because I was really caught up in the tale.
I had a change in my fortunes, sir, you see. You might not know it from looking at me - not yet anyway. But it's true all the same. And if I hadn't been so small, it would never have happened.
And what happened to change the fortunes of our narrator? Well, you'll really have to read the book, but standing freezing in the filthy street one day, he just happened to be in the right place at the right time:
The rider sprang off as light as a cat and pulled the reins over the horse's head. Then he marched straight over to me and put them into my hand. I gaped up at him and my mouth must have been as big as a badger hole. You can imagine, I'm sure, how astonished I was. He was very tall, that man, and his cheeks were red and he was breathing hard and there were tear-tracks across his face. He looked wild and mad, sir, and I have to admit that the sight of him terrified me.
But of course, the way he looked was not because he was angry or excited but because he had been travelling so fast through the icy weather. And indeed, when he opened his mouth, it was not to yell at me, which is what I expected, but to say, quite gently:
'Hold the mare for me, lad. And when I come back, I'll give you a golden guinea.'
Well, a guinea's a fortune for a boy like him...
It was a real pleasure to read this story. Short and sweet, clever and funny, helped along by charming line drawings.
What can I read next?
If you enjoy a touch of gothic melodrama round the fireside or story corner, you might like to look at some of the tales that Philip Pullman writes:
Another author who tells light little stories that work on many levels is Odo Hirsch:
Also, the Bookchooser has found these books with a similar profile:
- The Midnight Folk by John Masefield (Score: 96%)
- Hamish and the Fairy Gifts by Moira Miller (Score: 93%)
- The Lost Grandad by Geoff Steward (Score: 93%)
- Temmi and the Frost Dragon by Stephen Elboz (Score: 93%)
- Eight Days of Luke by Diana Wynne Jones (Score: 89%)
Highway Robbery features in these lists: