When Super Hubby asked me to help him write a review of a children’s book, the teacher in me was excited. I couldn’t wait to get the book and read what I was convinced would be an admirable contribution to children’s literature. But, unfortunately, I was a bit disappointed.
It’s a Big World, Little Pig! is a sweet story about Poppy, a big-dreaming, champion figure skating pig who travels to Paris for the World Games. Poppy is nervous to travel so far away and meet new people. As she encounters athletes from other countries, she begins to realize that “everyone smiles in the same language.”
While I commend author Kristi Yamaguchi (yes, the Olympic figure skater wrote a book about figure skating) for incorporating character traits of cultural awareness and acceptance into her story, the book is a bit…well….flat. Poppy meets athletes from China, Italy, Japan, and Australia and they each learn a few words in their respective languages. The characters give each other encouragement and, in doing so, they actually cure their own insecurities. But the events are loosely connected. All the encounters are fleeting and the prevailing theme of “everyone smiles in the same language” is awkwardly tied in on the very last page.
There are a few things that bother me about this book:
First, there’s no “meat” to the story. Okay, okay, I know not every book can be turned into a comprehension lesson (reading for enjoyment does still exist in some far-reaching corners of the world) but even the Sunday Funny Pages have more story elements and character development than this. I genuinely tried to create a standards-based lesson with this book, but I kept coming up blank. Maybe my brain was already on Spring Break, so teacher readers please let me know if you have any ideas!
The second thing that bothers me is that the words the characters teach each other in their languages aren’t consistent. Poppy learns Ni Hao (hello) in Chinese, Buona Fortuna (good luck) in Italian, Ganbatte Kudasai (I hope you do well) in Japanese, and Hooroo (goodbye) in Australian English. A better prevailing theme would have been to learn the same word in each language.
Which brings me to the third thing that bothers me about this book: redundant sentences. Don’t get me wrong, as a language development and reading specialist I definitely know the importance of repetitive and predictive text for an emerging reader. What I mean is that this book is repetitive in a boring way. For example, here is an excerpt from the story: “Poppy smiled at her new friend and her new friend smiled back. Zoe wasn’t nervous anymore because she had made a new friend in Poppy!” By the end of the book, I was already imagining the phrase “new friend” as a crappy librarian drinking game. Perhaps Poppy could learn how to say “friend” in each language and those words could have replaced the English, thus eliminating the redundancy and providing a more consistent connecting theme–two birds with one stone.
I must add, though, that the illustrations are positively charming. Huzzah to Tim Bowers for saving this book from the 99 cent bin.
Bottom line: Would I pay $16.99 (list price) for the hardcover book? Definitely not. Would I check it out from a library? Sure. Would I pay $4.99 for paperback at a school book fair? Sure, but only because it’s a school fundraiser. It’s better than buying yet another roll of wrapping paper.