One of my very favorite Disney shorts is Lambert the Sheepish Lion, the tale of a timid lion raised as a sheep. It was not until fairly recently that I realized its creator, Bill Peet, has had an extensive career as a childrens book author and illustrator, with many of his stories exploring the idea of animals that feel somehow out of place in their environment. One such creature is the title character in Buford the Little Bighorn, a under-sized sheep with over-sized horns.
Bufords horns do not grow as his peers do. Instead of curling back neatly on his head, they stretch far back, ultimately making it impossible for him to navigate the rocky mountainside where those of his kind reside. Despite their willingness to help him, Buford hates feeling like a burden and yearns to seek his identity elsewhere, finding a place where he can live comfortably in spite of his strange headgear. But is that too much to ask?
A quick glance at Buford might be enough to lead an imaginative child to guess a use he might find for his horns. Meanwhile, those who have already read Peets No Such Things are likely to catch on early, since that book features several beasts that resemble Buford, and all of them are engaged in an activity that Buford will ultimately discover. For other kids, however, the clever conclusion will come as a pleasant surprise as Buford finally finds a place where his uniqueness is appreciated.
The writing style is enjoyable, with lavish descriptions ruling the day but dialogue sprinkled in here and there. Some of the wording is particularly fun, like the teetering and tottering that Buford does as he tries to get around, and the gruff speech from the other animals helps us understand Bufords difficult position, though his fellow rams are supportive. We also get a sense of his independent spirit from the few things he says.
Peet is a marvelous storyteller, and this is a tale that would work especially well out loud. Still, its the rich illustrations that are really memorable, from the gorgeous landscapes and colorful sunsets to the plucky little hero with the inconvenient horns. Buford is entirely adorable, and like many of Peets main characters, he is likely to resonate with anyone who has ever felt markedly different from his or her peers. A sweet story of self-discovery, Buford the Little Bighorn is a delight.
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