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Pippin the Christmas Pig

by Jean Little, Werner Zimmermann, illus.

Not-very-good stories are wrung out of Christmas so often it’s hard to imagine a new one – a good one, that is. Acclaimed children’s author Jean Little (Orphan at My Door) turns the exhaustion of Christmas on its head to produce what should become a minor classic.

Little does this through the use of another seemingly exhausted form: the barnyard fable. It is Christmas Eve, and Pippin the pig can’t understand why all the older animals are so excited. That leads the animals – as proud and self-important as characters in a Flannery O’Connor story – to start bragging about the role their ancestors played in the first Christmas. Noddy the donkey reminds everyone that Mary rode a donkey to Bethlehem. “Christmas couldn’t even begin until she got there,” he says. But no one will explain to Pippin what Christmas really is. Worse, they tell her “the holy stable was no place for pigs.” So Pippin goes out into the snow, where she discovers a homeless woman and her baby. She leads them to the barn and orders the initially reluctant animals to provide warmth and shelter, thus re-enacting the Christmas story.

This is an intelligent and touching fable, told with a sure-footed sense of storytelling economy. Little’s story is perfectly complemented by Werner Zimmermann’s sensitive pencil-and-watercolour illustrations. His animals are drawn realistically, yet their faces are very expressive, without ever being cute or cloying. As with Little’s narrative, Zimmermann’s illustrations work within a particular tradition, but never resort to hackneyed religious imagery (the baby doesn’t glow; a bright star doesn’t appear above the barn). I highly recommend Pippin.