Three pigs and a wolf on the cover; they are wearing martial arts gi (gis?), Mt. Fuji and cherry blossoms hover in the background, and the wolf's huff...moreThree pigs and a wolf on the cover; they are wearing martial arts gi (gis?), Mt. Fuji and cherry blossoms hover in the background, and the wolf's huffing puff is swirling into east-Asian style clouds, so no surprises about what fractured fairy tale lurks within. On the other hand, the central pig has pigtailsponytails pigtails and a yellow Kill Bill gi, so perhaps there is something extra going on.
Schwartz's poetry has the heavy-handed rhythm and rhyme I find so valuable for my students, helping with both decoding and attention. "Techniques" must have only two syllables, and sound like "weeks." Now let's keep up this galloping sound right through to the next page!
Santat's illustrations support both the original fairy tale and Schwartz's retelling. In this book, the differences between the pigs' outcomes rest on their dedication to their martial arts studies, but Santat's illustrations differentiate the pigs' encounters with the wolves by carrying the color and shapes of the three building materials through the three fight scenes. Even the sky is yellow when straw pig has his showdown, and the action streaks look like pale straw themselves. For stick pig, green bamboo predominates (good choice, as brown or grey would blend in with the wolf's fur), and this time that bamboo does not fade behind the action streaks.
Brick pig, happily, is a girl, and for today's ridiculously gendered social norms, she is well-served here. Yes, she's a girl being strong where the boys have been weak. But her house is pretty, with grey stone and a contemplative statue. Instead of bricks, she has cherry blossoms scattered, offset, in the background. It's subtle, but I hope it preserves the original story while also showing kids that being a boy or girl is not an all-or-nothing binary choice that binds their actions.
Why do I care so much about the book's balance of masculine and feminine? Elsewhere on my shelves, I have a book with a male protagonist, and two students have flat-out refused to believe he was a boy because he is wearing a purple track suit. Seriously, this gender-all-the-things trend has gone too far when it is interfering with kids abilities to understand a book. Schwartz and Santat, thanks for this goofy, sneaky countermeasure.(less)
Bill Watterson's Calvin grew up and had a son named Wilfred, but instead of a stuffed tiger named Hobbes, Wilfred obtained a very alive moose named Ma...moreBill Watterson's Calvin grew up and had a son named Wilfred, but instead of a stuffed tiger named Hobbes, Wilfred obtained a very alive moose named Marcel. This charming book may appeal to adults more than children - the adults I've shared it with have fallen in love, so kids would have to go absolutely crazy for it to prove that statement false - because there is so much nostalgia in the pages. Jeffers painted many illustrations over landscapes by Alexander Dzigurski, and Dzigurski's work looks like he was working from Disney's old True Life documentary scenes. Surely a family in a wood-paneled station wagon is going to drive up at any moment and disgorge 2.5 kids and enough camping equipment to invade a small nation.
Wilfred himself would be easily adopted into such a family, because they would mistakenly think his bow tie, suspenders, and Charlie Brown hairline were signs of a bookish bent, the handy yet odd cousin who would fortuitously ID the poison ivy just before Pop gathered some for toilet paper. Unfortunately, that mistake would prove itchy, though not fatal. Wilfred would have wandered off somewhere, sure he heard a waterfall and dreaming of Evel Knievel-style adventures. He lives in his own head, and like Floyd from Jeffer's previous book Stuck, there is no indication that he even sees other people as subjects for waving his knowledge at.
Oh, fine, I'll be a teacher for a minute and tell you why I think this is a good book for kids, too, but adults are missing out if they don't actually grab it for themselves. Like so many "literary" picture books, the vocabulary in this one is outstanding. "Proximity," "dumbstruck," and "enraged" parade past the reader; some meanings can be gleaned from the context or brushed over without losing much understanding of the story, but most of the time they are just unclear enough and just important enough that my students tend to stop and wonder and hypothesize. Like all descendants of Calvin, there is a probable disconnect between objective reality and Wilfred's perception of it, and the text supports Wilfred while leaving just enough room for the reader to see it - if they are ready to. A lesson about compromise, imperfection, and acceptance even sneaks in, but Jeffers isn't telling us not to dream big, just that some dreams are so big (moose-sized, perhaps) that it is best to have the self-possession to adapt on the fly to exigent (that means others are being unreasonable, right?) circumstances.
Most importantly, Wilfred's eyebrow makes only occasional appearances, but when it does, it proves to be an epic conveyor of emotion.(less)