The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig by Eugene Trivizas

March 13, 2008
By Bapalapa2 ELITE, Brooklyn, New York
Bapalapa2 ELITE, Brooklyn, New York
1044 articles 0 photos 1 comment

The children's classic about the three little pigs is transformed in The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig, written by Eugene Trivizas and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury. The colorful illustrations that grace every page engage children, while adults may delight in the text's and images' subtle humor. It plays with the original storyline in pleasing ways that shine against the basic tale every child knows. The story follows three little wolves who repeatedly come up against the conniving big bad pig. The characters are humorous, the plot is simple, and the skilled illustrations flesh out the story wonderfully. It is a quirky tale intended for children but that adults can appreciate the humor of, as well.
The plot of The Three Little Wolves differs from the original, but it still quite recognizable. The wolves' mother sends them out into the world with a warning about the big bad pig. They construct first a house of bricks (building materials courtesy of a passing kangaroo—one of the wacky details that draws the reader's attention). The big bad pig comes along, and attempts to blow it down. He is not successful, “ but the pig wasn't called big and bad for nothing.” The author's sense of humor is evident as the pig fetches his sledgehammer to obliterate the house and the wolves escape by the skin of their teeth. This time, the wolves meet a beaver with a concrete mixer, and borrow some of his concrete to build a modern, military-looking building. The pig does them in with a pneumatic drill. The trend continues as they meet a rhinoceros with metal plates, barbed wire and padlocks, and build a new house, and, as the pig employs dynamite, to destroy their new home. Finally, the wolves take a chance and build an enchanting home out of flowers from a passing flamingo. The conclusion is sweet and vaguely surprising. The plot moves neither quickly nor slowly and has repeating phrases and themes, something that often shows up in fairy and folk tales. It is somewhat like a long poem, complete with refrains like the “huffing and puffing.” It falls quickly into the pattern of new materials, building, destruction, and new materials again. This simple structure is easy for children to follow and leaves one's mind free to enjoy the illustrations and creative words the author sprinkles throughout.
The characters in this book are evil, adorable, kindhearted, and uncaring. All of this is conveyed through images and text. Our heroes, the wolves (one white, one grey, and one black), are introduced as “three cuddly little wolves with soft fur and fluffy tails.” We fall in love with them right away. They are not snarling or evil creatures—they even drink tea out of their china teapot and cross their furry little legs as they sit on their couch. They are frightened by the pig, and by his determination to destroy everything they build. However, they never give up hope. The pig also contradicts the stereotype of his species as being lazy and stupid. He isn't terribly nice, but he has a clever and calculating mind. His motive for doing what he does to the poor, innocent wolves isn't clear. But he plays his part of villain with gusto, complete with occasional manic laughter. In addition to the main characters of wolves and pig, there are secondary animals that add color to the story. One example is the wolves' mother. She presents a hilarious image—she sits in bed, hair in curlers, and sends her little wolflings off into the world while keeping her eyes on her claws, which she is painting shiny black. There are also the animals from which the wolves get their materials: a kangaroo (with baby joey in pouch), a beaver, a rhinoceros, and a flamingo. These animals graciously give the wolves everything they need to make new homes. Even the rhinoceros isn't crabby or greedy, like you might expect the character of a rhinoceros to be: “‘Please, will you give us some of your barbed wire, a few iron bars and armor plates, and some heavy metal padlocks?' they said to the rhinoceros who was driving the truck. ‘Sure,' said the rhinoceros, and he gave them plenty of barbed wire, iron bars, armor plates, and heavy metal padlocks. He also gave them some Plexiglas and some reinforced steel chains, because he was a generous and kindhearted rhinoceros.” All the characters in this story are delightful, creative, and lighthearted, and easily come to life in your mind.
As with many children's books, the illustrations give the book at least half of its substance. The illustrations done by Helen Oxenbury use the creative but basic storyline as a jumping off point and make the story real for readers. They are done for the most part with watercolors, but possess amazing detail clarity and vibrancy that are difficult to achieve with this medium. Watercolors often look watery or smudged—not so here. Thin, precise graphite lines give the images definition. Interspersed with the full-color pictures are small vignettes done only in pencil to improve the flow of the story and show what the characters are doing between scenes. Every picture in the book is populated with minute details. Each one contains complex backgrounds, usually a patchwork pattern of fields. There are also often birds flapping in the sky among beautiful cloud formations. The illustrations are colorful and cheerful. The artist uses the entire rainbow during the scene when the wolves build themselves a house of flowers. The field outside is gorgeous, scattered with red poppies, and invites you take a nice, deep breath of country air. In addition to providing a backdrop for the text, the illustrations complement and expand it. The lines are sparse, without much description—the pictures supply those and make the story come alive in the reader's imagination. For example, nowhere in the text does it mention the way the pig prowls angrily down the country roads or how he throws back his fleshy head and laughs as he explodes the wolves' home with dynamite. The illustrations show you all these things. Another component left out of the text is the true-to-life building methods the wolves use. They don't just stack bricks on top of each other--they use meter sticks, mortar, spades and scaffolding. The illustrations are great works alone, but when paired with the ideas in the text, make for a very unique story.

This story flips upside down who is good and who is evil. The pig fits quite well into the villain category, with his meaty frame and beady eyes, while the fluffy wolves make lovable protagonists. It retells the classic tale without damaging it or applying it to the modern world. This is difficult to do, and is praiseworthy. The book also refuses to fit into the norm of children's books as simple-minded. It contains wild elements like beavers with concrete mixers, a pneumatic drill and steel plates, and the tarantella—things not often found in children's literature. These elements lend it a humorous flavor. Perhaps one reason for the book's unusual sense of humor is the rather unconventional background of the author. Trivizas is Greek, trained as a lawyer, and teaches criminology at Reading University in the UK. He has published several reports on different aspects of criminology, but is also a top children's author and playwright in Greece, the UK, and America. This background seems to have given him the resources to create an unusual but successful story. The tale is most appropriate for young children or perhaps for children who have just learned to read themselves. That's not to say the adult reading it to their son or daughter won't come away with a smile on their face. The book was published in 1993 but is widely available from most booksellers for about eight dollars. It would be an excellent addition to a home picture book library and would go a long way in encouraging a pre-schooler to be excited about books. The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig is a charming, clever story that will engage anyone who opens it.

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