A FEW OTHER EVENTS FOR
MARCH 1:

  • Happy birthday John Lonzo Anderson (The Halloween Party), Ruth Belov Gross (If You Grew Up With George Washington), and Barbara Helen Berger (Grandfather Twilight).
  • It’s the birth date of Margaret Friskey (1901–1995), Indian Two Feet series, and Ralph Ellison (1913–1994) Invisible Man.
  • In 1692, three young women accused of witchcraft were brought before local magistrates in colonial Massachusetts’s Salem Village. The ensuing interrogation of Sarah Good, Sarah Osborne, and Tituba is considered the start of the Salem witch trials. Read Tituba of Salem Village by Ann Petry, and Tituba by William Miller, illustrated by Leonard Jenkins.
  • Happy birthday Ohio, which became a state in 1803.

Today marks National Pig Day. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of pig books for me to choose from. Intelligent and humorous, pigs make a naturally intriguing subject for children. I first read the book of the day in 1984, and I have never fallen so hard or so fast for a new title for ages six to ten as I did for Babe: The Gallant Pig by Dick King-Smith.

Admittedly, the plot contains a lot of screwball logic. As editor of Horn Book, I first heard the bare bones of the story from a wildly-enthusiastic reviewer. I thought she might have lost her mind—the story sounds so bizarre. Babe, an orphan pig, is adopted by Farmer Hogget and his sheep dog Fly. With intelligence, courage, and determination, Babe trains to become a sheep-herding pig and manages, mainly because he remains extremely polite to the sheep, to win the Grand Challenge Sheep-Dog Trials. To write this saga King-Smith drew on his experiences as a farmer and his raising of a 600-pound porker called Monty. Although an animal fantasy, the book is grounded in animal behavior. Readers learn a lot about sheep dog training and herding competition as well.

Long before this book was made into a movie, and originally published in 1983 in England under the title The Sheep Pig, Dick King-Smith’s saga began, like Charlotte’s Web, as a way to save the life of a pig. King-Smith, who had held a variety of occupations—including soldier, farmer, and teacher—happened to be manning a “Guess the Weight of the Pig” stall in an English village summer fair. Realizing that the winner of the animal would probably kill it, he began to think of happier alternatives. What if the pig could go live on a farm instead—maybe even be taken care of by a mother sheep dog. What if the pig was behaviorally imprinted from the dog? Could the dog’s young charge become a sheep pig?

If you want to see gorgeous pictures of the 2010 English National Sheepdog Trials, taking place in Alnwick Castle in Northumberland, you can visit the website. I don’t expect that a sheep pig will win these trials anytime in the future, but I do know that any family, or child, picking up Babe: The Gallant Pig will have a wonderful time reading about Babe and his antics.

Here’s a passage from Babe: The Gallant Pig:

In fact, in the days that followed, Babe became so doglike, what with coming when Fly came and sitting when Fly sat and much preferring dog’s food to anything else he was offered, that Farmer Hogget caught himself half expecting, when he patted the piglet, that it would wag its tail. He would not have been surprised if it had tried to accompany Fly when he called her to go with him on his morning rounds, but it had stayed in the stables, playing with the puppies.

“You stay with the boys, Babe,” Fly had said, “while I see to the sheep. I shan’t be long.”

“What’s sheep?” the piglet said when she had gone.

Originally posted March 1, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Animals, Humor, Imagination, Pigs
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Babe
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COMMENTS

  1. G. Perry says:

    In my quest to build a children’s literature home in my soul, (missed in childhood) I avoided this title for a long time. It simply didn’t intrigue me. I knew I was going to read it, but only someday.

    Funny thing is, I have always loved border collies, so when I finally did read this book, I was surprised to learn that this kind little creature turns out to be a sheep-herding pig! What an ingenious idea. I doubt many writers could have made THAT work, but Dick King-Smith certainly did, and I actually learned about sheep-dog trials and how they work, which was fun all by itself.

  2. Kate says:

    Such a sweet story! And you’re right, at first it sounds too strange for fiction, but King-Smith pulls it off!

  3. Khrystyna says:

    I loved the movie, and didn’t even know it was based on a book! Very much looking forward to reading the story.

  4. Momo says:

    Did you know the movie maker for Babe read the book on an aeroplane? He was bored and asked to read a book his son had bought along. He loved the story but then waited ten years to make the movie becuase he needed the technology to make it look like the animals were talking. Today this looks a little primitive but it is still a heart-warming film and the book is brilliant. Another great little story from Dick Kingsmith is Smasher.

  5. I love the Babe movie, but also didn’t know it was a book. Excited to hear it’s a book! My Little Reader and I are reading the entire children’s section at our local library and always looking for new exciting reads. Thanks a bunch!

    Happy Reading ;-)

  6. Anita says:

    Caroline — Glad to lead you to this incredible book.

  7. S.Matt Read says:

    Me either! I love this movie, and now I’m going to read what inspired it.

    Goodness. I just never thought to check!

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