Saxon Tales: The Shepherd Who Ate His Sheep

Written by Terry Deary
Review by Elizabeth Hawksley

10th century, Maidstone, Kent. This tale is based on a true story of a starving shepherd boy, Edward Medway, who, one winter, cut the throat of one of his overlord’s sheep and ate it. He argued that wolves had killed it but the magistrate asked: what wolf ever carried a knife? Edward was condemned to hang. Edward’s father appealed to King Athelstan, who said that no criminal under sixteen should hang. The law was changed and Edward was saved.

Terry Deary tells the story from Edward’s father’s viewpoint. Upton Medway always makes excuses to avoid going to work, especially in winter. He doesn’t care that his son is starving and frozen. I find this approach worrying. Upton is a seriously unpleasant man, and I doubt that young children will find a devious first-person narrator who constantly twists the truth easy to grasp.

However, I have always been a King Athelstan fan, and I’m delighted that Terry Deary has chosen a story in which King Athelstan is undoubtedly a hero who, unlike the kings and nobles in Deary’s other Saxon tales, was definitely on the side of the poor. Tambe’s expressive illustrations capture the exciting bits. For children of 6+.