Friday, December 19, 2014

Beautiful Book #48

Pippin the Christmas Pig. By Jean Little. Illustrated by Werner Zimmermann. North Winds Press, 2003.

Jean Little has a way with storytelling. As one of Canada's most long-standing, prolific and diverse children's writers, she brings talent and skill to every project she touches. Partially sighted but legally blind since birth, her stories often speak of and to the outsider experience. Such is the case in Pippin the Christmas Pig, another take on the story of the nativity, this time through the eyes of the descendants of Bethlehem's stable animals. All the animals take great pride in what their ancestors offered to the baby Jesus, all except for humble Pippin who feels great shame that pigs were not part of the Christian Nativity. Feeling belittled and excluded, she runs away into a Christmas Eve blizzard--and that is when something rather remarkable happens.

Werner Zimmermann's soft colour scheme and his animals brimming with personality are well suited to this story. I also like the way he plays with line and direction to create a narrative flow for the eye on the page. When Pippin looks back at the warm barn, we look back in longing and doubt as well. When she leaps forward into the blizzard (and the page turn), we feel the tension created by the wind and the blue jay which force our eye to go back, as if to warmth and safety. Thematically, the illustrations are perfect.

I read this book every year with my daughter and even though I know the story almost by heart now and even though my rational brain tells me it is deliberately set up to milk my emotions, I openly weep every. single. time. Such is the power of Jean Little's storytelling.

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