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Saturday 5 August 2017

The Pig's Knickers

Author: Jonathan Emmett
Illustrator: Vanessa Cabban
Publisher: Walker Books Ltd, London, 2010

This is a fantastic, cheeky, witty children's book, written as much for the kids as their reading adult. The protagonist, pig, is possibly my favourite preschool book character of all time; theatrical, flamboyant, camp, outlandish. The book starts with a fairly forlorn pig 'feeling sorry for himself' bored with the way he looks, sat in the troth by his pig style on Hilltop Farm. (Appearance angst in a children's book, how modern!) A pair of knickers then blows from the farm washing line on to the head of pig. After working out how to wear the knickers a delighted pig begins his excited escapade around the farmyard, dancing, cartwheeling, and strutting around in his knickers and new found self confidence. Along the way pig meets several farmyard friends, inviting each to comment on his knickers. Each animal makes a dry comment about what they see, and pig eventually beds down for the night with the knickers airing on the fence. An unexpected twist in the morning sees the knickers gone, and a distraught pig is then comforted and reassured by his friends that with or without knickers it is he who is 'special' not the red polka dot knickers alone. 

This fabulous 'clothes don't maketh the man', 'beauty is not skin deep' moral for young children is superbly placed in this self conscious age, as is having a trans dressing pig lead. The story is fresh and welcome at a time when dialogues on identity, sexuality, gender are thankfully opening up. While the humour in the story is technically about the lead character, outlandish pig, he's a lovable character, emotional, and rallied round by his friends. The book is thus as much about friendship, liking people for who they are not how they look, as my more adult interpretation of identity. Acceptance and friendship are of course very useful not to mention computable messages for children of preschool age. 

The neat, water colour and pen illustrations in the book match the 'beauty is not skin deep' message in the story well, with pig characterised as bulbous. The soft colours and whispy farm yard animals give the book an aesthetic of ordinariness (as a children's book) but the story is anything but. There's a fantastic eyebrow raising final joke in the story, that in my experience of reading this aloud, children rarely get; I like the book all the more for this moment. This is a joy of a book to read aloud, but pig deserves a really theatrical performance, so please do him good justice. 

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