March 10, 2004

A Day No Pigs Would Die, by Robert Newton Peck

I generally buy my daughter the trade books she reads for school so she can write in them. It's easier for her if she underlines the vocabulary words she has to define or scenes she has to discuss as she's reading them. It's a simple enough adjustment for her learning difficulties and since schools really donít teach more than one or two non-text books a semester, it's not a huge budget issue either. This book is taught in, I think, 7th grade. Maybe 6th. I do remember trying to help her decipher the idiomatic vocabulary and probing her for a little more depth on her critical thinking questions. It's too bad I hadn't read it at the time. Our chats about it would have been much more productive because it's really a very good book. Amazingly so.

As a coming of age story, the plot is fairly simple. Rob Peck is a young boy skipping school one day and wandering the woods brooding when he happens upon a neighbor's cow calving and in distress. He's small, the cow is huge and it's a fierce struggle to help the calf out but he does it and he goes on to save her from choking to death on ruptured goiter by reaching in and ripping it out of her throat. He's bitten and unconscious when he's found by the neighbor and carried home to be stitched up on the kitchen table by his mother. And in payment for saving his prize cow and her twin matched bull calves, the neighbor gives Rob a young piglet of his very own to raise.

That's the first couple of chapters. After that it's the story of Rob raising his pig, living during the Depression on a farm that is barely making it, watching his parents struggle and finally accepting some of the harsher realities of adulthood. It's not a happy story, though there are light hearted moments in it, particularly when a prissy friend of his mother learns he is nearly failing English in school and decides it's due to not learning to diagram a sentence. His description of his diagramming lesson was so funny I had tears in my eyes reading it. And if you are not of a farm background or donít understand the earthy way that farmers approach the breeding of animals, some of the scenes in it may be a little surprising. It adds rather than detracts from the book.

His parents are deeply proud, plain people and Shakers, although what that means is unclear to me since Shakers were a sect that believed in communal living and a celibate lifestyle. His parents seemed more along the lines of devout Quakers. No matter. The point is that he does not fit in. His clothes are different, he doesnít own a bike etc. And they are poor. His father must work off farm as a pig killer at a slaughter house to pay the mortgage. They have next to nothing and the only real thing he has of his own is the little pig he has been given. He plans on breeding her and making money from selling the stock.

The real joy of reading this book is the language. Peck plays with idiom in a way that enchanted me. It's almost poetic. I had to read slowly and listen to the words to hear it. The descriptions at the end had me in tears. The story was sad and the telling was sad. I am so glad my daughter had the opportunity to read this one. It's a jewel.

Posted by Deb English at March 10, 2004 06:34 PM