Thursday, September 24, 2009

Chester the Worldly Pig

I’m sure I’ve mentioned how much I love the animal stories of Bill Peet. Like a potato chip, I can’t just limit myself to one. I have already done a review of Huge Harold but Chester the Worldly Pig is just too good to pass up doing a review of. Like Wilbur, in Charlotte’s Web, this pig had me cheering for him as he attempted to make his own luck.

Like Wilbur, Chester decides that he doesn’t want to become bacon. He decides he doesn’t want to end up on anyone’s table. But instead of finding a helpful spider, Chester decides to make his own luck. He sees a poster for the circus and decides to learn a trick. He practices and practices and finally teaches himself how to balance on his snout on a fencepost. He runs away and joins the circus only to find out that they want to make him do his trick surrounded by hungry tigers. When he faints, he becomes a clown’s sidekick. But that’s not what Chester wanted either. So he runs away from the circus only to run straight into a bear. He is saved from the bear by three hobos, but they decide to eat the little pig. They stuff Chester into a sack and take him on the trains with him. He escapes from the hobos into the city. But danger lurks everywhere in the form of butchers. He leaves the city defeated and gives himself up to the next farmer he sees. The farmer starts to fatten the pig up for eating; but Chester is saved in the end by a passing carnival promoter. Chester didn’t even need his trick, his spots form a map of the world.

As always, I am enchanted by the characters in Bill Peet’s books. Through both the story and the illustrations, Peet is able to tell an exciting story with some very memorable animal characters. Unlike so many books for children, these are not animal characters acting like people. These are animals, who act like animals, who also happen to have great adventures. Chester is a determined little pig who ends up in a series of bad positions. He is not willing to just sit and wait to become dinner. Chester decides that he will solve his problem on his own. He works hard to improve at his trick and even though it doesn’t pan out, his determination just shows how he’s not afraid of hard work or a couple bruises. Even when things reach the point where he is resigned to being dinner, he decides to do it on his own terms. He plans to grow to as big as possible. He’s a pig who takes charge of his own situation. And a great character.

This book is drawn with Bill Peet’s typical style. Using only colored pencils and ink, Peet is able to create tons of emotions for his characters. We see Chester’s pride, his heartbreak, his determination, and his joy. The rest of the cast of characters is well done but it is the little pig that steals the show. The backgrounds in Peet’s books, often set in the forest or the country, are detailed without being overpowering. A couple of pen lines somehow become a field of wheat. The circus tent is a sea of faces, all done with a bit of colored pencil and excellent shading. Peet is a master when it comes to colored pencil. At a distance, a circus elephant seems grey, but get a bit closer and you can see all the colors that have been used to create the exact shade of grey. The books are filled with great scenes. Peet’s work always seems like he’s grabbed stills from an animated film. There is so much movement and color. Perhaps it is his film background. Another Peet masterpiece and a wonderful character.

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