Posted by: Lizzie Ross | February 18, 2011

Pratchett’s Discworld for Kids

The Wee Free Men (2003) and A Hat Full of Sky (2004), Terry Pratchett

My brother and father are avid Pratchett fans, but for some reason don’t think these books represent Pratchett at his best. I, on the other hand, haven’t read any of the other Discworld books, so I couldn’t say, but I found these to be delightful. I imagine that Pratchett’s writing adjusts to kid level, and it may be that whatever appeals to adults is missing. Nevertheless, there’s plenty of clever writing and word play in these two books, as well as plots that enthrall and characters who make you care what happens to them.

Courtesy English Heritage

Tiffany Aching’s family have long lived on the Chalk (somewhere in southwest England, but a reference to the White Horse of Uffington gives a good sense of exactly where), herding sheep and living their lives. Then something happens, and Tiffany finds herself in the middle of a collision between two magical worlds, and, with the aid of the Wee Free Men and her own developing magical powers, she saves the day.

The Wee Free Men are a great creation. All with Scottish accents (I heard Billy Connolly’s voice throughout), they’re happiest when they’re stealing, fighting or drinking. Out of loyalty to Tiffany’s grandmother (who was herself a witch), they side with Tiffany and become her staunchest allies and obey her every command. When she orders them to return a sheep they’ve taken, they bring it back immediately.

How do beings who are only 6 inches tall steal a sheep? One or two stand under each hoof and then run. The sheep looks like it’s rolling along. And sheep are generally so stupid that they don’t even notice.

In A Hat Full of Sky, Tiffany leaves the Chalk to train as a witch, and finds herself battling snobby witches and witches-in-training, as well as a terrifying entity that senses her power and wants to inhabit her mind. The Wee Free Men once again come to her rescue, and cause as much damage as possible. Their efforts to travel far and fast require them to don the apparel of a scarecrow, and these scenes are some of the best in the book. Imagine sitting in a stagecoach next to a straggly man whose hat covers most of his face, and whose knees and elbows keep complaining about how they’d like some air please.

There’s a great line in this book: It’s not my fault, but it’s my responsibility. That’s something to make a thoughtful reader pause.

How often do we dismiss problems because we didn’t make them happen? Doug Addams calls this an SEP (Someone Else’s Problem). But if we take Pratchett’s view (perhaps the exact opposite of Bart Simpson’s cry “I didn’t do it!” after every disaster he’s caused), would that mean that more problems are resolved, because more people take responsibility for them?

What a concept!




  1. Just finished the first two Tiffany Aching books, in the middle of the third. Happily the fourth book is out in paperback on Tuesday. “Ahg, crivens!”

    • Thanks for the tip. I’ll keep an eye out for it.

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