Cindy: I’m beginning to think that I have moved to the South Pole given the chilly Michigan weather this summer. Usually I read books like this one in the summer to cool off! The Adventures of a South Pole Pig (Harcourt 2013) is a delightful novel for young chapter book readers who are ready for meaty vocabulary and an engaging story. Teachers need to consider this strongly for a class read aloud, too. More on that in a minute.
Flora just might be the best fictional pig since, well, since Charlotte was spinning webs for that special pig we all love. Flora wants adventure. She is bored inside her small pen with her mother and siblings and envies the cat, Luna, who gets to explore the whole farm yard. Flora gets an adventure alright. More than she bargained for. She ends up being selected from her siblings as a choice specimen and is taken by truck and loaded on a ship headed for the South Pole! Talk about adventure! Flora is disappointed, though, when she is taken down into the hold rather than being given a cage on deck with the other sled dogs. She is sure there has been a mistake. Yes, Flora has gotten it into her little piggy brain that she is going to be a sled pig! She does not realize that she is only on the trip to become bacon for the Captain and crew.
I do not want to give away the adventure that unfolds, but animal lovers rest assured, I wouldn’t hand off to the book to Lynn if Flora did not survive. There was one especially chilling moment that brought to mind the South Pole explorer Titus Oates’ real death but even that allusion ends well here, whew. Children can read this book for its adventure, its story of friendship, its humor, but here’s what I love about it as a class read aloud, especially as the year gets underway. The book celebrates not only teamwork and working together, but it heralds the idea that brains and talent can come from unlikely places. Kids learn early on the idea that roles are set. That they have been assigned a place. They lose the ability to aspire so early sometimes. And so needlessly. By middle school the cliques are labeled and sorted in the cafeteria. Here’s a book that celebrates pursuing your own talents but dovetailed with the idea that teamwork is important. It’s important to support others and to allow others to support you. To share your talents, to share your strengths and that leaders can ebb and flow in a group. Kurtz pulls this off with enthusiastic pig speak and self-aggrandizing cat speak and proud aging dog speak that is both true to the animals and true to life experience. And he does it in a story that will have kids cheering for everyone by the end.
Lynn: Cindy and I are totally in sync on this charming book. In fact I opened up Cindy’s start to this post intending to write about what a perfect classroom read aloud this is but she was there way ahead of me. It IS a perfect read aloud because it has something for everyone: humor, suspense, talking animals, danger and even some inspiring things to think about. Flora’s can-do indefatigable spirit really shines here as the heart of this story without ever feeling preachy. Flora believes she can be a sled pig and she gets there, saving her bacon and everyone else’s along the way. Which brings me to another element that works so well in this book: readers quickly understand something that the central character doesn’t until far into the book and that eventual revelation is so effective. My heart ached for Flora but happily her friends and her own strong spirit gets her through. Here’s a book to make you cheer.