Critical Context (Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)
All Creatures Great and Small is both educational and entertaining for young readers. The subject matter, including the descriptions of animals and of the actualities of veterinary practice, provide interesting material for a young audience, and the prevailing humor is very engaging. The veterinary profession is portrayed with realism from a positive point of view. Herriot clearly wishes to celebrate his life’s work without glorifying or romanticizing it. He also wishes to tell a humorous and poignant story. Herriot’s storytelling ability enhances the narrative style, which combined with the format of short sketches makes the work quite suitable for young adult readers.
All Creatures Great and Small is also interesting from a geographical and historical point of view. The passages in the work describing the wild beauty of the Yorkshire region are fascinating as literature, and they also introduce the young reader to a part of England that may be less familiar. All Creatures Great and Small provides a compelling account of life in rural England between World War I and World War II. The difficult living conditions under the depressed economy of the 1930’s are evident without being overly emphasized. Herriot’s tone never becomes self-pitying in his descriptions of the era. The young reader is made aware of the rapid scientific advances and progress in contrast with the prevalence of old, preindustrial practices in agriculture. The struggle for modernization and the desire for progress are presented in contrast with the value of traditional customs and ways of life.
All Creatures Great and Small is also an anthropological portrait of a culture that largely died with World War II. The young reader is introduced to large, extended families which live together on farms that have been in their possession for centuries. Herriot convincingly evokes the sense of community and of the importance of family that, in many respects, defined the life-style of rural England in that era.