Tuesday, September 22, 2009

this little piggy

One of the joys of motherhood for me has been the world of children's literature. The Snowy Day, Goodnight Moon, Who Said Red?, and Harold and the Purple Crayon. Such wonderful stories. But if any of you have a house full of children's books, you know that for every delightful book there are at least three awful ones. They can be bad for a variety of reasons: insipid stories, bad illustrations, or they are not really designed for children. The worst offenders, however, are the hyper-moralistic stories bent on teaching children values.

While the author of the newer Berenstain Bears series might be the worst offender, the one that has gotten my goat most recently is Richard Scary's Pig Will and Pig Won't: A Book of Manners. If you can't already guess the plot line, let me offer you a short excerpt: "If Mother Pig asks them to please be quiet, Pig Will whispers, 'I will.' Pig Won't shouts out, 'I won't!' Bad Boy!" On a side note, I'd like to ask Mother Pig to stop splitting infinitives, but more importantly, how ridiculous is this book? Is this really a story? Indeed it is. Pig Won't doesn't remain entrenched in his stubborn ways. In a moment reflective of a Billy Graham crusade, we turn the last page to a chapter entitled, "Pig Won't's Decision." (Again, who edited this book?) A worm named Lowly tells Pig Won't that being nice gets you friends. Pig Won't "decides that he will try to be good."

Martin loves this book. He reads it several times a day. And to my chagrin, its moralism works on him. Martin actually talks about his behavior in terms borrowed from the book. If he is being bad, he will say that he is Pig Won't. The book's characters are so clear to him that I have taken to invoking them. When I saw him wrestle a 2-year-old to the ground the other night, I had two questions for him. "Are you Pig Will or Pig Won't?" "Pig Won't," Martin replied. "Are you ready to be Pig Will?" I asked him. "Yes, I'm Pig Will," he answered.

While I never expected that life with a 5-year-old would involve lots of conversational subtleties, I wasn't really expecting this either. Tonight, Martin was upset about not being allowed to go outside. In response, he banged his head on the front door and broke a small pane of glass with his forehead. I was gone (he did this on the babysitter's watch). But if I were home, it would not have helped for me to talk about the danger of broken glass, the perils of running outside without an adult, the problems of disobeying the babysitter. The clearest thing I could have done is say, "Martin, you are being Pig Won't. Pig Won't is not welcome here. It's time to be Pig Will."


  1. I laughed out loud when I saw the Pig Will picture. I am oh SO familiar with this story. Pigs Will & Won't have been staples of the Richard Scary world since the 70's and perhaps before. We have them in a larger 'anthology' type book (it's one of the jumbo ones they published during my childhood).

    Imagine my chagrin when we found the story on "bad" behavior titled 'Horrid Pests!' My girls discovered the old book and wanted me to read it. I could change the wording of some things before they could read-- now we have to read as written and discuss why Mommy and Daddy don't always agree with Mr. Scary's language or his approach. ;)

  2. I love this. It is such a good reminder that their little minds are just NOT in the same places as ours. Hang in there, Jen--you are mindfully responding to whatever the moment requires, and doing a great job! love, k.