David Wiesner's amazing The Three Pigs
Children's book review by Steve Barancik
Ages 4-47 (explanation to follow)
I have a confession: I am artistically uptight.
I usually like things that are straightforward. Abstract art doesn't make sense to me. I want to know, "What is it?" It can symbolize something, but please don't tell me it symbolizes nothing, that it just is.
I have similar biases with the written word. Poetry is a little too "out there" for me. I hunger for a straightforward narrative.
Maybe I have this problem because I was an oldest child. Maybe my drooling siblings were a little too abstract for me!
Now, I have a lot of artist and artsy friends who assure me that this is a weakness, and I'm willing to accept that it is. I'm even willing to work on it.
So along comes David Wiesner with The Three Little Pigs. I think this guy is trying to make my head explode!
Are you familiar with the term "fractured fairy tales"? It might be the hottest genre in children's books. Basically, an author starts with a traditional tale, then starts tweaking and twisting it.
It's a genre I generally love; I've even written a book on the subject!
Generally, you end up with a fun twist on a familiar theme. That traditional tale doesn't end up going where you thought it was going to.
But it goes somewhere. Wiesner's The Three Pigs, on the other hand, goes everywhere.
Meet the three pigs. They're not so little. They're building their three houses. There's a threatening wolf hanging around. He starts blowing down their houses and eating them.
Or does he?
Actually, as one pig puts it,
He blew me right out of the story. Review continues.
All of a sudden, pigs - more realistic looking ones - start appearing outside the funny-paper panels of that story with the wolf. They start walking on the panels. They start folding them up into paper airplanes.
The three pigs start crash landing into other stories. Hey, diddle diddle, that cat with the fiddle? Maybe he's not so happy in his story, with that silly cow and the moon and all that ridiculous dinnerware. Maybe he'd like to escape that childish story along with them.
He leaves with them, taking his fiddle.
So the pigs, with their new feline friend, start looking for a new story to inhabit. Maybe there's an unfortunate dragon who needs rescuing because he's being threatened by a murderous prince.
But, you know, you can't always be on vacation. You do need a permanent place/story to inhabit. And one of those pigs had built that wonderful brick house. It looks "very nice," the fiddle-playing cat notes.
So the pigs and their new companions decide it's time to unscrunch and unfold all those original story panels and return home. After all, it's not like that annoying wolf is going to be any match for a dragon.
Sure it'll be crowded, what with the dragon being the size of a blue whale and all, but it'll also be cozy.
David Wiesner cures me!
I've gotta tell you something: I'm actually liking this book more and more (and more!) as I'm rereading it and sharing it with you. It is art - somewhat abstracted - and there is a story, which I just shared with you. On my first reading, I was way too hung up on the details, struggling to read the words on folded story panels that, actually, aren't really meant to be read.
The Three Pigs is something you stand back from and observe as a whole, as a complete work of art. Then you move in closer and admire the details.
And be sure of one thing: this is a work of art. Wiesner has won the Caldecott Medal three times (so far, including for this book) and Caldecott Honors (essentially the runner-up) twice. The Caldecott awards are for the best picture books of any given year. (Click to see his other award-winning books.)
Wiesner uses no less than four visual styles in The Three Pigs: one for The Three Little Pigs venue, one for the Hey Diddle Diddle, one for the dragon's locale, and then a more photo-realistic style when we find the pigs wandering between stories.
So here's what I want to say. At age 47, at 6 a.m. in the morning, David Wiesner's The Three Pigs opened me up to a broader way of looking at art and literature. If you don't want your children to turn out like me (and you shouldn't!), you might want to locate this book.
If you want to start them out with tales that aren't quite so fractured, here are a couple more big bad wolf stories I love, and here's a great book called An Undone Fairy Tale. (All reviewed on this site.)
Now, I think I'm going to go visit my sculptor buddy and see if his new work now looks like anything more to me than a blob.
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