A co-worker brought Pigs to the Rescue (2010) to my attention two weeks ago, when she insisted on reading it aloud. The illustrations, particularly of the anthropomorphized farm animals (and pigs in particular in this book, though other “traditional” farm animals are featured in other books in the “to the rescue!” series) who are trying so hard to help Farmer Greenstalk and his family.
Pigs to the rescue? I thought (and said). Is this a story warning children against the police state?
“You’re no fun,” responded my co-worker. “This is just a nice story.”
“A nice story about the police state?”
She stopped reading to me then.
But, this story does seem to be about the police state, at least on some level. I tried looking through John Himmelman’s blog for insight onto his political standings and it was hard to draw out anything conclusive. He’s pretty firmly interested in the environment (a large chunk of his books deal with the wonders of the natural world and he’s a birder). He’s “open-minded” about the idea that humans have helped speed along the process of global warming (but all recalls the 1970s when global cooling was the thing everyone was worried about), and is anti-advertisers.
Alas, that leaves me to draw my own conclusions (unless he wants to shoot me a note and inform me where I’m wrong or right) based on the way I interpreted the book. So, here goes.
From the beginning, when I heard the word “pig” I automatically thought of the slang term for a cop, which is, in itself, slang for a police officer. Pigs to the Rescue! could just as easily be Cops to the Rescue! which sounds like a horrible piece of propaganda about how Officer Friendly and his gang of supposedly good-guy cohorts are really just here to protect you. But, as the story continues, you see that as hard as the pigs try to make things better, they only end up making a mess.
For instance, when Farmer Greenstalk can’t plow his fields because his tractor broke down, the pigs “help” by ripping the field apart. When a kite gets stuck in a tree, the pigs “help” get it down — but destroy the kite in the process. Despite these mishaps, and others, the Greenstalk family (tentatively) thanks the pigs for their help. I mean, what else would you do when the cops, I mean pigs, help you? If you don’t thank them, what do you risk?
In a police state, far too much.
I find it particularly telling that this especially Irish-looking family (red-headed father and daughter, dark-haired mother and son) are so afraid of the cops, I mean pigs, that they will still thank them even for destroying their livelihood and hobbies.
These pigs, are of course, pink pigs. There isn’t any diversity among the pigs, and they continue to perpetuate the idea that “real pigs” are pink rather than a variety of colors. Maybe I’m stretching when I say that this isn’t too far from thinking of a cop and thinking of a white man. But, in this reading of Pigs to the Rescue, I find it hard to find any other interpretation.
But wait, that’s not all this book does.
This book pushes forward (perhaps ironically, given it’s warning about the police state) the idea that small family-owned farms still exist, and that those farms are diversified (instead of, say, factory farms which monocrop or practice CAFO animal raising). Maybe Farmer Greenstalk and his family own an organic farm (which at least has a greater chance of being small and diversified though even this is changing). The book doesn’t make this clear one way or the other — which seems irresponsible given how commonly small children’s toys replicate idyllic farming scenes (red barns, cows, sheep, pigs, horses, etc.).
Further, it advances the idea that rather than being really hard work that farming is frivolous. This isn’t to say that there’s no time for fun on a farm, but maybe books should begin to downplay the barnyard antics that are so common in books for children in which farming plays a central role.
All of that being said, this is a book I would recommend to the children in my life. The illustrations are fun, and it’s wonderful that on his blog John Himmelman at least occasionally discusses the process of being both an author and an illustrator.