If You Give a Pig a Pancake
written by Laura Numeroff
illustrated by Felicia Bond

Laura Numeroff's If You Give a Pig a Pancake
Illustrated by Felicia Bond

Children's book review by Steve Barancik

Ages 4-8

I was a weird kid. I loved "If...then" statements. You know...

If Chuck is older than Margie, and Margie is older than Scott, then Chuck is older than Scott.

I was into simple, objective truths and uncomfortable with subjective ones. Of course Scott is younger than Chuck!

Yet it was quite clear that many other kids (that is, normal kids) hated this artificial, oversimplified form of logic. I suspect they found it constricting!

And I suspect author Laura Numeroff was one of those kids.

If You Give a Pig a Pancake is one of the (at least seven) books in Ms. Numeroff's If You Give a/If You Take a series. They work like this...

A child protagonist somehow finds herself faced with a demanding, toddler-like animal. Acceding to the animal's first demand only leads to more. You see...

If you give a pig a pancake, she'll want some syrup to go with it... [Then] she'll probably get all sticky, so she'll want to take a bath.

Well, the bath leads to something crazy, which leads to something crazier, which leads to something crazier still. The book is simply a series of "If...then" statements that are logical only in their illogic!

And kids love them. I believe it tickles their absurdist side. (I'm only guessing. My childhood love of "If...then" statements proves that my own absurdist side was missing at birth.)

Every turn of the page brings another unexpected turn of events, but presented as if it were a completely predetermined outcome. Certainly when the pig sees your treehouse, she'll want to wallpaper it. How could it possibly be any other way?

Ms. Numeroff's last trick is to close with a foreordained flourish. The penultimate turn of events leads our little Miss Piggy...

To ask for a pancake. Can you say, "Endless loop"?

It's a delightful, if exhausting, journey; our unnamed (but generous) child protagonist falls asleep with her head on the breakfast table at the end. It seems that keeping up with the never-ending impulses of a little one can take it right out of you (and leave you right back where you started).

Who knew???

Like all the If You books, If You Give a Pig a Pancake is illustrated by Felicia Bond, whose playful illustrations capture both the pig's joie de vivre and the little girl's earnestness in trying to satisfy the whims of her tiny charge.

Now, at the risk of incurring Ms. Numeroff's wrath, I'm going to recommend that you select and purchase only one of the If You books...

Why? Because I believe these terrific books offer even greater value as a creative jumping off point.

Try this: After you both grow familiar with the book, challenge your child to invent her own "If You" story. (Or better yet, join her!)

What if you gave a lion a lemon? Took a monkey to the museum? It's a great creative exercise with no wrong answers. (Yes, I would have hated it.) See how far you can take it. Then see if you can make it circle back to the beginning.

Great car fun! And it all starts with a book!

Webmaster's note: Laura Numeroff has also written an autobiography aimed at children interested in the writing life. It's entitled, naturally enough, If You Give an Author a Pencil.

Read more of Steve's reviews.

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