Top 100 Picture Books #35: The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith
#35 The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith (1989)
I remember when this book was the hit of the third grade. Everyone passed it around and read it and we all were cracking up. Fractured fairy tales in the hands of the skilled Jon Scieszka makes for fun reading! – Sarah
Rocky and Bullwinkle would have been proud. The fractured fairy tale is never so fractured as when it springs newborn from the mouth of the ultimate unreliable narrator. Consider it the book that brought us our Scieszka and our Lane. Though you might think that their Stinky Cheese Man would make it higher on the list, this is certainly not the case.
The synopsis from my old review: “As A. Wolf puts it, the whole thing was just a big misunderstanding. One of those events that get blown way out of proportion. See, it’s like this… the wolf was just looking to borrow a cup of sugar for his poor bed-ridden granny. He wanted to make a cake for her, but finding himself lacking the necessary ingredients he went to his nearest neighbor to borrow some. Now here’s where it all went higgledy-piggledy. The pig (living in a straw home) didn’t answer the door and the wolf had a bad cold. By pure bad luck he accidentally sneezed the home down and, in effect, killed the pig. Thinking it a bad idea to waste pork, the wolf ate the pig and decided to try another neighbor. And so it went until he got to the brick house and was shortly, thereafter, arrested. And all for the want of a cup of sugar.”
According to 100 Best Books for Children, Jon and Lane sort of did the thing you’re told not to do when creating a picture book. Under normal circumstances you’re supposed to come in with your portfolio (if you’re an artist) or you text (if you’re an author) and the publisher pairs you up with somebody. In this particular case, Smith and Scieszka met in a zoo (please hold all appropriate comments until I finish) and when Lane went in to show his portfolio to editor Regina Hayes he showed her Smith’s manuscript as well. Batta bing, batta boom, instant fame, glory, and rocket ships to the moon. As Scieszka himself said of the book in a Puffin interview, “Our first book, The True Story of the Three Little Pigs sold thirty bazillion copies in eight languages.” Sounds ’bout right.
Fun Fact: The Norton Anthology of Children’s Literature gets the title of this book wrong. No, really! It does. Check out page 875. Granted it’s just the small goof of calling this The Story of the Three Little Pigs rather than The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, but I think the inclusion of the “True” in the title is necessary. Nay! Imperative. They almost make up for the gaff by finishing his bio by saying, “critics have called Scieszka’s work ‘postmodern’ Children call it funny.” Good save, Norton me pal. We’ll let you off the hook this time.
- Strangely enough you can read the full text here, if you’ve half a mind to. Sans pictures, though.
- Thinking about it, I saw Scieszka talk about this book briefly in a recent B&N video. In it he says: “I get a lot of mail from Kindergartners. Actually a lot of it addressed to A. Wolf saying, ‘Dear Mr. Wolf. You were bad. You should be in jail.’ Which I think is pretty hysterical. They’re kind of little mini fundamentalists all on their own.”
Publishers Weekly said of it, “Smith’s highly imaginative watercolors eschew realism, further updating the tale, though some may find their urbane stylization and intentionally static quality mystifyingly adult. Designed with uncommon flair, this alternative fable is both fetching and glib.”
School Library Journal (more specifically, my boss!) said of it, “Smith’s dark tones and sometimes shadowy, indistinct shapes recall the distinctive illustrations he did for Merriam’s Halloween ABC (Macmillan, 1987); the bespectacled wolf moves with a rather sinister bonelessness, and his juicy sneezes tear like thunderbolts through a dim, grainy world. It’s the type of book that older kids (and adults) will find very funny.”
And from the Brits (weird, I know, but this is the first time I found a book where they weighed in significantly):
“Pure creativity.” Junior Bookshelf
“An hilarious alternative version.” NATE News
“One of the best books of the year, exuding vitality and energy.” The Bookseller
Filed under: Best Books, Top 100 Picture Books Poll
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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