I’m distinctly conscious that the books I review tend to fit a particular canon of authors, style and language. Whilst some of that is perfectly understandable and self-explanatory (*cough*bit of a fan of the school story *cough cough*), there’s a point where those canonical edges should be challenged and reshaped. Reading out of ones remit, as it were.
This is something I’d always encourage readers and people who work with readers to try and support. Boundaries are made when we become comfortable in our reading. It is always worthwhile to test the nature of those boundaries to realise the points where they are thin and poorly made. Enable difference, divergence. Turn left instead of right. Put away all the fiction books and just have non fiction on display. Talk about reading and choices. Let the child dictate to you what both of you read. Read together, read apart. Read differently. Publishers like Pushkin Press and Big Picture Press are catching my eye a lot for their titles which facilitate this bold and adventurous approach towards children’s literature, fictional and otherwise. Let me know of any others you recommend?
Today’s review is of a gorgeous little picture book from Stockholm. The titular Vasa Piglet is Piglet Lindbom who has been taken from his home and put on the royal warship Vasa, about to launch from Stockholm harbour. Piglet Lindbom realises quite quickly that he’s destined to be eaten and must escape. As he tries to figure out his escape, he hides down below in the shadows before climbing up the mast and hiding in the nest. All the while, the ship is taking on its supplies and preparing to set sail….
The Vasa Piglet is based on true events. The Vasa was a real boat and you can find out what happened to her here (spoilers!). The book itself has been fact checked by the Vasa Museum in Stockholm. Whilst I’m no historian, the images present what feels like a realistic portrayal of life in Stockholm at the time (and the endpapers in particular neatly bring the story into the present day).
The text has a distinct charm despite certain points of it being somewhat stiffly rendered in the translation that I read. I loved the moments where Piglet Lindbom climbed up the rigging “forgetting that pigs can’t climb rigs” and gets given grief from a seagull “Copy me. Fly!”. Piglet Lindbom’s world weary respone is to think: “Seagulls don’t know much about pigs.”
Visually, The Vasa Piglet is charmingly distinct and quite avant-garde at times. Certain images cover several moments at once, imbuing the page with a level of dynamism and direction as well as making the reader actively engage with the visuals present.
There’s a romantic twist to some of the spreads as well. One key example of this is the cover, where Piglet Lindbom sits at the top of the mast and stares out into the blue ink sky, dotted with stars. The visual clues of this are fairly emphatic in nature : Piglet Lindbom will survive as he’s looking forward into the future and not being chased by an angry / hungry chef. The tension of this book doesn’t exist in that moment. Rather, it exists in the machinations behind that moment. How will Piglet Lindbom escape the Vasa? What happens, to those of us who do not know of the Vasa (and I was one!), is quite the surprise…. (I’m trying to not spoiler the ending, but that last sentence is hideous – forgive me!). In essence The Vasa Piglet has its faults but as a whole delivers an unusual, somewhat eccentric and oddly charming experience.