Friday, November 21, 2008

Piggybook: A Review

Review by Scott Tingley

I am a grade 3 teacher and I was at a Professional Development session on Guided Reading this afternoon and the teacher giving the session was one of my supervising teachers when I took my teaching degree twelve years ago (my, how time flies!). I respect this teacher a great deal, so when she started pulling out story books that we could use for specific comprehension activities I paid close attention.

Then she took out one of the ugliest books I have ever seen. It had an interesting illustration in the middle of a couple of boys and a grown man on the back of a woman (obviously the males on the back of the mother), but the when coupled with the awful looking border, I was turned off on the book right away. Yea, I was judging the book by the cover – it was so ugly, I had no choice. I wouldn’t have even read it on my own, but this teacher was bound and determined to read it to all of us.

She loved this book for a lot of reasons. She loved all of the lesson ideas a teacher could get out of it. She loved how it could be used for a grade 4 and 5 art lesson (famous paintings morph as the story progresses). She loved how even though there are amazing changes happening within story, no explanation is given, which makes the questions the kids can ask and answer richer. She really loved the vocabulary the book offered. She really loved a lot of stuff about the book.

I hated the cover.

I even hated the back cover.

Then she read the book. She was almost giddy that she had the opportunity to share this ugly looking book. I was not impressed.

Then she read the book.

Piggybook turned out to be one of the most stunning and troubling kids books I have ever had the fortune of reading. Basically the book is about a husband and two young boys that treat their wife/mother like the hired help. Like hired help that can’t ever quit…but then she quits. Left for themselves, the other three slowly morph into the pigs that they are. The house changes, the language in the narration changes. That’s the clever stuff. Anthony Browne does a really nice job of writing and illustrating these changes.

The troubling part is in how none of this really seems to be played for laughs. There are four panel scenes early on showing the mother at work – never with her family – always at work. The boys are in full colour, but the mother is always in this sepia yellow – and alone. And you never really see the features on her face. She is a non-entity – she is unimportant in her own life. She has no ears or mouth and her eyes are only slits. This is a woman beaten down. Then she leaves. The guys fall apart. She comes back – they are pigs and with her rights asserted she is the beautiful young mother she always was supposed to be.

This is a book rich with possibilities. I imagine that it might spark some hard conversations about inequalities and divorce. Some of the teachers made jokes about their husbands being like the man but that sort of thing should not be acceptable when using this book.

I don’t have a copy of Piggybook in front of me, so I may have gotten a couple of details wrong. Also, I always review brand new books on this blog, but this one came out in 1990, so you may have a copy in your school or library already, but if not, Random House has it for sale HERE.


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