July 19, 2018
The Three Little Superpigs. By Claire Evans. Scholastic. $14.99.
One way of reconsidering fairy tales and other familiar children’s stories is to assume that kids know them well already, so they can simply become background for entirely new books for which the originals are merely foundations. And one way to make those new books work well is to make them extensions of the originals – with additional elements that kids who do know the earlier versions will find incongruous and highly amusing. That is exactly what Claire Evans does in The Three Little Superpigs, originally published in Great Britain in 2016 and now available in a new U.S. edition. The book, after the inevitable “once upon a time” beginning, picks up exactly where modern versions of the story of the three little pigs end: the Big Bad Wolf is seen falling down the chimney of the pigs’ brick house “into a pan of boiling water!” But he is not roasted alive, as in the original story – most of the now-familiar children’s tales are considerably less gory than they were when first told or collected. All the quick background page says in Evans’ book is that the wolf was trapped by the pigs – and then he is seen being taken away to jail in a police vehicle (license plate FLPD 1 for “Fairyland Police Department 1”) as the pigs wave goodbye to him.
The wolf, pigs and other denizens of Fairyland are rendered in Evans’ illustrations in a style that kids will immediately recognize from animated films in which characters are given something of a 3-D look. What happens to the pigs after the wolf’s capture is right in line with filmmakers’ reconsideration of fairy tales, too. The pigs are given dress-up outfits (two of which, unnecessarily, include masks) and medals saying SP1, SP2 and SP3 – the letters standing, of course, for Superpig. They are applauded by all sorts of Fairyland characters, including Pinocchio and happy dwarfs and a crown-wearing frog and a wizard and many more. And then they are seen cashing in on fame. No, not for money (that would be a touch too realistic!), but SP1 takes a selfie with Red Riding Hood, SP2 signs an autograph for the gingerbread boy, and SP3 is seen “fighting crime and stopping nursery rhyme bad guys” – specifically Goldilocks, who is led away as the three smiling bears look on.
All this is mere scene-setting, though: the plot gets going, and gets increasingly silly, as the wolf is seen in his cell, reading books such as “How to Forge Keys” and “Bricklaying for Dummies,” after which bricks start mysteriously disappearing from all around Fairyland – leading the Superpigs to investigate using Sherlock-Holmes-style magnifying glasses and crime-scene tape. Then the Superpigs learn the wolf has escaped from prison, and they set out with binoculars, a Wolf Detector, and other equipment, to locate him – but he is too smart, or they are too dim, since Evans shows him in the Deep Dark Woods, only steps from where the Superpigs are fruitlessly searching. The search gets increasingly absurd in a police-station lineup where the wolf, dressed as an old lady but carrying a basket full of bricks and with his wolf face quite clearly visible, just cannot be spotted because he is “a master of disguise.”
Eventually, though, the wolf’s nefarious plan must be revealed, and so it is: he uses one of those forged keys to get into the Superpigs’ houses, and when the pigs try to get away, they find themselves trapped behind a huge brick wall built by the wolf with the stolen bricks! Soon two of the Superpigs are neatly wrapped in pastry blankets, ready for dinner – the wolf’s dinner. But of course the third Superpig saves the day, having fortuitously just perfected “his jet pack invention,” which lets the pigs zoom over the wall: up, up, and away. “When pigs fly,” indeed – in fact, Evans has the Fairyland residents exclaim happily, “Wow, pigs really can fly!” And now the wolf is trapped behind his own high brick wall, so everyone – well, everyone but the wolf – is happy. “The end?” writes Evans with a question mark. Apparently not: the wolf is last seen reading another book, and who knows what will happen next? Young readers will enjoy trying to guess, whether or not Evans creates a sequel to The Three Little Superpigs. And even if there is no follow-up book, this one is sufficiently full of hijinks and hilarity to keep kids who know the original three-little-pigs story happy with this thoroughly ridiculous continuation.