Baaaarilliant sheep puns abound in this new comic story by Ellie Irving. Charlie Rudge is a schoolboy whose life changes completely when his family are named, rather unexpectedly, as the inheritors of a farm in the remote Scottish countryside. Charlie is optimistic about the move, but finds it hard to make friends in Ovwick Rumble. He is blessed with a brand new friend, though, when the farm’s first lamb arrives – Alan Shearer. There is something very unusual about Alan Shearer’s fleece – so unusual that it might just earn Charlie’s family a fortune, or even help Charlie win Young Farmer of the Year. Alan Shearer’s extraordinary fleece soon draws the attention of several greedy and unsavoury characters, desperate to get their hands on the priceless Ewe (yes – Alan Shearer is a girl). The story becomes a crime caper as various incompetent heists are attempted, with increasingly hilarious results.
Though a very silly tone is maintained throughout, Fleeced features important messages about family and honesty that are most explicit when Charlie is faced with an agonising dilemma involving his long-lost brother, his favourite sheep, and a man in a neck-brace. Luckily he has help from the rest of his family, including his Uncle Martin, who is the book’s main source of comedy. Despite his enormous frame and burley appearance, he is in fact a fervent scone-baker and housekeeper as well as the world’s biggest Michael Bublé fan. Not all of Irving’s characters are quite so original, though, and even young readers may have the feeling that they have seen some of them before, especially the dastardly partnership of Brains and Brauns.
Though there are elements of the story that are a little predictable, Fleeced has enough intrigue and humour to engage children all the way to the climactic Young Farmer of the Year competition.