How do children learn to be compassionate? By example, from their parents and teachers, and often through picture books. Sprig,The Rescue Pig (Stone Pier Press, April 2018) endeavors to teach a lesson in the tradition of Charlotte’s Web and Blueberries for Sal – using animals to model good human behavior.
Based on a true story, a little pig escapes from a crowded truck headed “nowhere good.” With the driver of the truck in hot pursuit, the pig follows his nose through the woods straight to a peanut butter sandwich held by a little girl having a picnic with her mother. The girl is startled by the unexpected guest but offers her sandwich to the hungry pig. And so begins the friendship of a girl, Rory, and the pig she names Sprig.
But this pig is no simple, anthropomorphic stand-in. Sprig isn’t really meant to be just a metaphor. Author Leslie Crawford means to suggest that pigs are worthy of respect on their own merits – Sprig represents nothing other than the pig that he is. In a recent article, she wrote, “Pigs are affectionate, curious, and playful. They can be taught to play video games, perform all kinds of tricks, and come when called. They are, in fact, very much like dogs.” Crawford is a vegetarian, and her hope is that by helping people consider a pig an animal with some dignity and intelligence, that they might feel less like eating one. But she uses a light touch. Sprig is open-ended, and a parent can read the story simply as one of friendship or use it as a jumping off point to discuss the larger issue of how and why farm animals are raised.
Vegan or vegetarian parents will appreciate Sprig for providing this springboard, but I would make a case for adding this book to your library even if you make your kid the occasional BLT. Any child will be delighted by the sweet, timeless illustrations by Austrian illustrator Sonia Stangl, who draws the narrative skillfully across the pages, sometimes in imaginative tendrils, almost embodying the way the scent of the forest first draws Sprig out of the truck. Any child will root for a cute pig making a run for it, and then enjoy having the fantasy of coming home from school to a pet pig waiting for them in their front yard. Then that child can come to understand that it doesn’t really belong there either (after all, domesticated pigs can weigh up to 600 pounds when they’re fully grown). For the pig to be happy it needs a wide open field and mud puddles to romp in with other pigs.
When we imagine what it might be like to be someone else, even a different species, it helps build empathy. Reading the simple tale of Sprig, the Rescue Pig reminded me of the words from another book I read recently, Peter Wohlleben’s The Inner Life of Animals: “I am suggesting we infuse our dealings with the living beings with which we share our world with a little more respect, as we once used to do, whether those beings are animals or plants.” We should give pause to how the animals around us are treated, and then perhaps we’ll take them a little less for granted. It’s a practice we can all benefit from, children and adults, too.
Lisa Kelsey, social media editor for The Record, is also a News Fellow at Stone Pier Press.