To be completely honest, I’m not a fan of animal stories. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White kind of gutted me as a child, and any book featuring an animal as a main character (or even a beloved sidekick) has me on high alert, waiting for the moment where tragedy strikes and the animal dies. Even in adult literature, I’ve been known to flip through to the end to make sure the dog/cat/house goat, etc. makes it through to the end. So you’d think I would’ve been a lot more wary when we came across this copy of The Adventures of a South Pole Pig: A Novel of Snow and Courage by Chris Kurtz in a Little Free Library a few blocks away, but the cover and premise were so charming (and the story so perfect for our cold, snowy weather!) that I couldn’t resist. We took it home with us, and I planned on making it a bedtime read-aloud.
Flora looks like your average farm piglet, crammed into a pen with her mother and pile of brothers, but she was born with a sense of adventure. Surely, this small life can’t be it, right? An introduction to the barnyard cat enlightens her to the possibility of more. A venture into the wider barnyard, where she makes the acquaintance of the sled dogs being trained on the property, whets her appetite for adrenaline, and Flora begins a similar self-imposed training regimen, disguised as games with her brothers. Her routine pays off when she’s chosen, so she thinks, to be a sled pig on an Antarctic expedition…until she’s unceremoniously dumped in the hold with the food-stealing rats. Maybe adventure isn’t quite all it’s cracked up to be.
But Flora’s not one for giving up, instead teaming up with the haughty ship’s cat to take down those thieving rats, earning her the respect of both the ship’s boy and captain. But the unthinkable- a shipwreck- turns everything upside down, and that’s when the true adventure, and danger, begin. Will Flora end up food, or can this plucky pig dig deep and save the day?
I was right not to worry. The Adventures of South Pole Pig is a true delight. Flora is a charming character, endlessly optimistic and bent on achieving her goal of being a sled pig, and the cast of supporting characters- Sophia the cat, Oscar the lead dog, Aleric the plucky ship’s boy, even Amos the ham-loving cook- provide endless amusement, grit, and drama. The overarching fear of Flora ending up on a plate doesn’t show up until about the last third of the book (although I think most readers will suspect early on. Flora doesn’t recognize her status as potential dinner fodder until that point, and only when it’s pointed out to her), and it’s a plot point that’s eclipsed by straight-up survival in such a dangerous environment.
If you’re like me and have shied away from animal stories in the past, this is a good one to start with. We could all learn a thing or two about optimism and determination from Flora; her boundless energy and determination are what truly make this story the engaging work that it is. We read a chapter, sometimes two, to my 4.5 year old daughter every night at bedtime, and while at times there’s more prose than dialogue, it worked decently well as a read-aloud for a wiggly preschooler who sometimes struggles with sitting still and listening, even at bedtime.
I definitely need to read more middle grade novels. The genre has changed so much from when I was younger, and even in the years since I stopped homeschooling my son when he was 9 (he’s 16 now; why yes, there is a large age gap between my children!). It’s a genre I always manage to overlook but shouldn’t, because there are so many gems there. The Adventures of a South Pole Pig is one of them.