Children’s Book Review: “The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs!” by Jon Scieszka, Illustrated by Lane Smith (1989)

“I was framed!” and “You would have done the same thing, were you in my shoes!”—likely the most common excuses shared by convicts around the globe. In The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs, A. Wolf tells author Jon Scieszka just why he did the things he did to those poor little “porkers”—a significantly different tale than the classic most of us know—leaving the reader to decide which one rings most with truth.

In this “true story,” A. Wolf claims that his blowing down the first two houses was by mere accident. The two pigs he ate were already dead when he found them. And the only reason he felt the need to attack his neighbor’s brick house was that the pig inside had antagonized him by saying nasty things about his granny! Surely, you can’t blame the wolf for defending his grandmother’s honor, right? “You would have done the same thing, were you in my shoes!” he seems to cry.

After having taught this fairy tale for a full week in class, using several differing versions of the story, I have found it hard to pick out a moral of any kind. I certainly don’t recall having learned anything important from it during my own childhood, other than “Use the best material possible whenever you build something.” “Don’t open your door to strangers”? “Life is better in a community than alone”? “If you’re going to do something, do it well”? Although I never really emphasized any of these other three potential “morals,” I did choose to focus briefly on the latter by teaching terms of comparison (good, better, best; strong, stronger, strongest; etc.). Anything else would have just seemed forced.

Lane Smith’s unique illustrations in this book seem to mix styles from across the board. There’s a bit of Picasso surrealism at times in the wolf’s disproportionate features, while at others it’s almost as if Smith colored and then used his own original storyboard sketches of a relatively straightforward wolf in formal attire. He works a lot with the edges of his canvas, while at the same time leaving whole swaths of empty space where a viewer’s eyes might normally want to focus. Smith doesn’t do much with hidden details (though the twig knife, forks, and spoon beside the second pig’s body were a nice touch), but that doesn’t seem to detract from the need to study the art at length. Finally about the illustrations, I can’t imagine that Smith won any favors with critics by showing all the cops to be pigs themselves. While that might have worked for William Steig in 1969 with Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, I would think that folks in 1989 must have a bit more sensitive to such things.

Overall, this was a good little book to read to the kids. Some of the phrases and ideas went right over the head of many of my 5-6 year olds, yet they still enjoyed it. Having a fairy-tale book that stretches over several age ranges is a sure sign that the book is a good fit for any young reader’s library.

©2015 E.T.

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