Courage Book Review: Three Little Three Little Pigs

Know how you can tell this classic is about physical courage? All the huffing and puffing! Just as The Three Billy Goats Gruff had plenty of act-out-able bits, so does every version of The Three Little Pigs. Straw, wood, bricks – these are all parts of our physical experience (as opposed to tricks or puzzles, which are part of our intellectual experience). A big bad wolf who wants to eat you up is a physical risk. Physical courage may be the most easily recognized of the six types of courage, and so it is one that features in so many tales for the very young.

The Three Little Pigs have also been a mainstay of children’s book illustrator/retellers for many years, and today I offer a few words on a few notables from the Three Little Pigs’ Pen that should be readily available in libraries or stores.

Paul Galdone’s version from 1970 is a basic, friendly start. The trim size is small, making it comfortable for little hands. The story is straightforward and the illustrations are bright and dynamic. It’s perfectly satisfactory and we move briskly from one pig’s fate to the next. From 1989 we have the beloved James Marshall offering his trio of roly poly piggies, each dressed in a distinctive costume. I particularly like the pig who builds with sticks – he wears colorful, striped shorts, and his house is decorated with flags, balloons and wind chimes. The brick-building pig in this version looks like a London banker, with waistcoat and bowler hat. In this version, as in Galdone’s, the unfortunate straw-builder and stick-builder are both gobbled up. Both books end gleefully with the provident third pig gobbling up the wolf in turn.

Steven Kellogg’s 1997 version adds a subplot of a mobile waffle business that supports the pigs financially, and and enterprising mother pig who comes to the rescue at the end. Although the art and the subplot are both full of fun and interesting details, I would only share this with kids who are already well-versed in the story, for two reasons. For one thing, the subplot slows down the cadence of the main action. As you may recall from my post on The Rule of Threes, classic stories make use of triads to carry the emotional punch. It’s useful to keep that triad clear of clutter, however, so the pattern can emerge. The echoes of “Not by the hair of my chinny chin chin,” and “I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house in,” should ideally still be in the air by the time the next round comes. The second reason I feel less than enthusiastic about this version is related to the internal v. external locus of control, which Lisa has explained so well in earlier posts. Mommy pig comes to save the day – emphasizing that forces outside of the little pigs are in control. It’s so much more satisfying to have the final pig (even if he is poignantly the last pig standing) be the one to thwart the big bad wolf and deliver revenge, as in the more traditional versions. That shows the internal locus of control that we want our kids to develop for themselves.

Finally (and yes, I realize that this makes four) we have David Wiesner’s 2001 The Three Pigs, the Caldecott Medal winner for that year. It’s a brilliant tour de force of illustration and revision, but again, I would share this with older kids who are already perfectly familiar with the traditional story. You can’t even understand this book without knowing the model it subverts. This is a book to be enjoyed by a more sophisticated audience than the one that will squeal with delight and huff and puff as ferocious wolves. This is one that demonstrates qualities of intellectual courage – flexibility, creativity, and inventiveness – rather than physical courage. Enjoy the Galdone or Marshall versions of the story with your small kids, and then once they’ve gone to bed, appreciate the Wiesner book with your wordly-wise middle schooler.

One thought on “Courage Book Review: Three Little Three Little Pigs

  1. teddy

    Small children–kindergartners, certainly!–can enjoy Wiesner's version! And in my class, they certainly do! It might require the teacher to probe the story and interact with the children, but that should happen anyway! I'm sure a parent could provide the adequate support to help a child understand, if she even needs help!

  2. Jennifer Armstrong

    Well, sure.My main point about the Wiesner book is that its brilliance lies in turning many conventions on their heads.Without reasonable familiarity with those conventions, through many previous exposures to other versions of The Three Little Pigs and many other similar tales, much of the book's subtlety may just whoosh over a young child's head.It's wonderful to hear that you are providing your students with that kind of support.


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