Thursday, October 3, 2019

The peculiar pig by Joy Steuerwald

The illustrations are cute and the story well-meant, but I found the message of this debut picture book to fall back on a problematic formula; it's only ok to be different if your differences "benefit" society.

The story begins with the appearance of a "different sort of piglet" in the barnyard one morning. The mother is a smiling pink pig with a litter of pink and black-spotted piglets, so the addition of a dachsund puppy certainly mixes things up. Observed by some kind of wren (it's got the tipped tail, but the coloring of a robin?) the new "piglet" struggles to fit in, being pushed aside and teased by the other piglets although the mother claims to love her. Eventually, when the piglets get their name, she gets one as well - Penny. Mama Pig assures her again that she loves all her piglets the same and Penny learns to appreciate her own differences, even though her siblings still think she's "peculiar." Finally, when a snake appears in the yard, Penny's bark turns out to be useful as she saves the day and scares the "scary hissing creature" away. Her siblings celebrate her differences now, trying to bark like she does, and "they all agreed that peculiar was perfect."

The art shows a green farm, a pleasant mix of traditional red barns and mud holes for the pigs with modern wired chicken coops and machinery. The pigs have wide, smiling mouths, even when they're taunting Penny, who curls up patiently and waits her turn for milk and her mother's attention.

It's a sweet story of appreciating and accepting differences and Kirkus gave it a starred review. But I have some serious issues with this story, especially as a method of introducing differences to young children. First, while assuring her of her love, Mama Pig never corrects her children's mean words or pushing behavior towards Penny. The little piglets are free to bully and taunt her as they like. Secondly, it's only after Penny has proved her worth that the other piglets accept her. This is a pervasive and I think very damaging viewpoint. Especially in regard to disabled people, but really for anyone. It's like saying that disabled people are "inspirations" for abled people and so serve a purpose. Kirkus suggests it's a good book for adoption and that sounds awful to me - it's basically telling adopted kids that they will only be accepted if they make a big enough contribution to their family! I would have liked this story much better if Mama Pig had corrected her other children and the piglets had learned to accept Penny's differences even if they never benefited them.

Verdict: The illustrations are cute and it's quite well done for a debut picture book, but the message really bothers me. It's a pervasive one that I don't think needs to be reinforced. Not recommended.

ISBN: 9780399548871; Published June 2019 by Nancy Paulsen Books; Review copy provided by publisher

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