Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Three Little Pigs

"Everybody knows the story of the Three Little Pigs. Or at least they think they do." That's how Alexander T. Wolf starts off his first person narrative of Jon Scieszka's The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs!

For the past several years I've picked a fight with our 4-5 year olds about the classic fable, usually by telling it the way I learned it, with the silly pigs who built their houses of straw and sticks being eaten by the big bad wolf. The wolf, in turn, is eaten by the smarter brick house pig when he tries to climb down the chimney and falls into the soup pot. The children have heard tidier versions and shout out at me that the pigs and the wolf are not eaten, but rather escape and go away hungry, respectively. I argue, as I would with you, that it doesn't make sense for the pigs to get away because it's a fable, and fables are for teaching lessons, and the lesson is that you get eaten if you are foolish enough to build flimsy houses; and the wolf has to be eaten because he's "big and bad." I sway some of the kids, but others are steadfast in their versions, insisting, for instance, that "I've seen the movie!" or, once at least, "Pigs aren't meat eaters."

I love discussing art and literature, even Faulkner, with children. 

Once we get to the point of conceding that we'll just have to agree to disagree, I present them with The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs!  I emphasize the "true" part of the title. This year, when we finished reading the wolf's version, an untrustworthy narrator's account with lots of pleas of innocence of motive even while confirming the fundamental facts of the story, some of the children agreed that this sounded like what probably happened while others disagreed. One child, being both diplomatically and philosophically correct, suggested that maybe both stories were true, shrugging and saying, "All wolves eat pigs." There was opposition to this point of view in the form of, "Wolves can just eat dog food."

The following day, I reminded the children of our discussion, then said, "I just found the real story of the Three Little Pigs!" presenting them with Eugene Trivizas' The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig. There was a great deal of shouting as several of them either owned it or had read it. At our Halloween party during which I'd had a moment of having to quiet 100 or so kids over a book, Devrim's older sister Meyra, an alumni now in first grade, told me that her teacher had taught them to do silent twinkle fingers when they wanted to let everyone know they either owned or had read a particular book. I told the kids this story and we decided we would try it. I thought, Yes!

"One day the mother called the three little wolves around her and said, 'My children, it is time for you to go out into the world . . .'"

Few kids felt that this was the "true" story, although many declared it their "favorite," citing the pneumatic drill (jack hammer) and dynamite, specifically. This really is a fantastic twist on the traditional story that ends where the classic begins, with a flimsy house of flowers being the best one of all. I mentioned that "everything in this story is the opposite" of the original story, but no one took the bait. I suggested a few other avenues of discussion, but we mostly wanted to talk about the dynamite and the fact that we either owned or had already read this book. In a different year, the focus was on the chains, padlocks and steel plates.

Then I said, "Now I want to read you the real, true, extra real, true story of the Three Little Pigs. It's so true it's just called, The Three Pigs." This one is a challenging read aloud book in that it is a surreal take on not only this fable, but literature in general, with the characters leaving the story, including breaking the fourth wall, to travel through nursery rhymes and legends, ultimately arriving back home with a dragon buddy who intimidates the wolf.

"Once upon a time there were three pigs who went out into the world to seek their fortune . . ."

At the end, a parent-teacher, clearly impressed by the book, said, "What a crazy story!"

Our discussion revolved around what a crazy story it is.

Then, I said, "If you're looking for ideas for stories to write in your journals, maybe you'll want to write the actual true story of the Three Little Pigs."

Two girls took me up on it. I'm sorry, but I've not included the illustrations.

This is the true story of the Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf. Once upon a time there was three little pigs. The mama said one day they have to go off on their own and she said to be careful of the big bad wolf. This is a true story. This is the mommy pig (illustration). She said the little pigs truly, truly, truly had to go off on their own. And the big bad wolf was hunting and hunting and hunting and he found the pig's house. And he huffed and he puffed and he couldn't get the house down and he didn't know what to do. So he had to get a drill, but he didn't have a drill. So he asked for one from the pigs, but they didn't give him one and they put him in jail. The big bad wolf was looking for another pig and he found one in another house. This is the big bad wolf again (illustration).

And the second one:

The first little pig built his house out of bricks. He asked a flamingo if he could have some bricks and he said, "Yes!" And the second little pig asked a polar bear if he could have some hay and the polar bear said, "Yes!" The very last pig made his house out of sticks. He asked a kitty if he could have some sticks and the kitty said, "Yes!" And the mommy pig was happy because she did not have to take care of her children pigs anymore. They had built their own houses.

As historian and social critic Arthur Schlesinger wrote, "(Fairy tales) tell children what they unconsciously know -- that human nature is not innately good, that conflict is real, that life is harsh before it is happy -- and thereby reassure them about their own fears and their own sense of self."

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