Pig Tale

h1 August 4th, 2009 by jules


“Snort! He grew bigger and bigger and bigger until he burst free.”
(Click to enlarge spread.)

What would most of the world’s children’s librarians and teachers do without Caldecott medalist Gerald McDermott’s tales? He’s not here today, having coffee with me. (Bummer. I can’t always get my way.) I hope he can stop by 7-Imp one day soon, but this post is sort of a tribute to his books by way of his latest title, Pig-Boy: A Trickster Tale from Hawaiʻi (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). Pig-Boy—drawn from the stories of the shape-shifting Kamapuaʻa, a divine trickster-hero in Hawaiian mythology—was released in April.

Right. Back to the educators of the world. As McDermott puts in his author’s note for the book, “I hope my version excites the imagination and provokes exploration of the vital mythological tradition from which its drawn.” I say he’s been doing that for years — with his beloved trickster tales of other cultures, as well as his other brightly-colored folktale picture book adaptations from cultures all over the world, reminding children that “the more one discovers about another’s culture, the moore deeply one may perceive our common humanity” (also from the same author’s note).

Here’s Pig-Boy (click to enlarge the spread), who was born a “hairy little hog” with pointy ears, a curly tail, a bristly back, and a dirty snout:


“Pig-Boy ran into the king’s gardens and stole the royal chickens.”

Are you ooh-ing and aah-ing over these bright, sun-splashed tropical colors yet? The king’s angry and tries to seize Pig-Boy, but he squeals and becomes a hundred piglets. When Pele, the goddess of fire, sees him on her smoking mountain and tries to shoo him away with fire and smoke, he jumps into the ocean, becoming “the pig-nosed fish called humu-­humu-­nuku-­nuku-­āpuaʻa.” When the king’s men successfully catch him, he grows in size until he is able to burst free (the spread opening this post). You can see the pattern here. Each time, he just slips away, just as his Grandmother, who “loved this dirty little boy,” told him he would do.


“But when Pele saw the dirty, hairy little hog, she shouted, ‘Swine! Leave me alone!’ She shook the earth. She filled the sky with fire and smoke.
Pig-Boy squealed and jumped into the ocean.”

(Click to enlarge.)

McDermott’s uncluttered text is energetic, and he doesn’t shy in both word and art (rendered in gouache, colored pencil, and pastels) from the necessary inclusion of fear in the tale, but just look at his rounded, comforting lines, softening a bit the action and terror inherent in the tale for the wee’est of children. In the end, Pig-Boy gets small again, runs to his Grandmother: “She wrapped him in soft leaves and sang him to sleep.”

This is a welcome and unique addition to the world’s collection of picture book trickster-tale adaptations. I hope you read and enjoy it, while I continue my quest to convince McDermott to stop by for cyber-doughnuts and cyber-coffee. Until then…

* * * * * * *

PIG-BOY: A TRICKSTER TALE FROM HAWAIʻI. Copyright © 2009 by Gerald McDermott. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, NY.

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5 comments to “Pig Tale”

  1. I added your blog to bookmarks. And i’ll read your articles more often!


  2. His Raven is one of my favorites. Pig-boy is on my wishlist.


  3. *oinking in approval of this tasty review*

    Is it really bad if I admit I’m not familiar with McDermott’s other tales? *hangs head*
    This looks like a good retelling; I do like the art! I know you told me about it a long time ago, and I’ve yet to pick it up. Perhaps if you entice Mr. McDermott with Kona coffee and macadamia nut pancakes, he’ll stop by for an interview . . .


  4. Oooh,I love trickster tales! But I’d never heard of this slippery little guy.

    You know what I like best about it? That he does all these super-powerful shape-shiftings and then at the end shrinks back to his normal cuddlesome self. Which is pretty much how many a kid’s adventures in imagination work in real life!


  5. That’s okay, Jama. Remember: I’ve never read Little Women. Gulp.

    John, I hadn’t heard of Pig-Boy till now either. It’s a fab book.


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