Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Adventures of Nanny Piggins by R. A. Spratt, illustrated by Dan Santat

Perhaps I just wasn't in the mood for it, but I found this story extremely annoying. Mr. Green absolutely must have a nanny for his three children because he has neglected them so badly the social services are threatening to take them away. Not that he would care if they did, but it would probably destroy his "job at a law firm helping rich people avoid paying their taxes." So when Nanny Piggins shows upon the doorstep one night and says she'll only charge ten cents an hour, he hires her on the spot.

There's a long tradition of eccentric nanny stories, starting with Mary Poppins and Nurse Matilda, in children's literature. There's also the animal nanny motif, although it's usually a dog like Barrie's Nana and Alexandra Day's Carl. Then there's Amelia Bedelia's brief stint as nanny, Clarice Bean's Uncle Ted, and so on. There's also the "bad nanny" sub-genre, which are generally kidnapping books.

Nanny Piggins doesn't quite fit into any of these categories. First of all, as she tells the children, she has no experience as a nanny. Her real job is a porcine cannonball in a circus. She doesn't reform the children (who are quite well-behaved already) or take the place of their parents, or fit into the household in any way. In fact, she's a great deal more irresponsible than the children or their father.

Her first adventure is to take the $500 for school supplies and uniforms and take the children to the amusement park, where they spend most of the money. The rest goes for chocolate and a few school supplies. She makes their uniforms with cheap dye and crayons and when they disintegrate at school she blackmails the principal into giving them another $500....which they set off to spend again.

The story is, of course, supposed to be amusing nonsense, outrageous and ridiculous. However, I found it irritating, especially accompanied by the condescending warning notes about not following Nanny Piggins' lifestyle yourself and the screeds on school, uniforms, parents, lawyers, etc.

I was only able to see rough sketches of Dan Santat's illustrations, since this was an ARC, but they are the only really attractive part of this book. I especially enjoyed Nanny Piggins vintage outfits.

Verdict: Some kids will find the humor amusing, but the episodic adventures, universally unpleasant adults, glorification of childish irresponsibility, and patronizing narrative tone will probably annoy other readers besides myself.

ISBN: 978-0316068192; Published August 2010 by Little, Brown; ARC provided by publisher at ALA

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