Friday, March 4, 2011

Review - "The Adventures of Nanny Piggins"

Nanny Piggins is not your ordinary nanny.  Nor is she, for that matter, your ordinary pig.  She is the star of The Adventures of Nanny Piggins, by R.A. Spratt, and is extraordinary in nearly every way.  She paints wonderful portraits (of herself, of course), she is a master of being shot out of a cannon, and she bakes the world’s best pies, pies so wonderful that she can’t bear to leave them uneaten.  And Nanny Piggins eats a lot.  Not just pies, but cakes, toast, cotton candy and chocolate.  Lots and lots of chocolate.  Basically, Nanny Piggins is the best nanny in the world, if you’re Derrick, Samantha and Michael Green.

You see, the Derrick, Samantha and Michael Green are the children of Mr. Green, and Mr. Green is just about the cheapest, stingiest man in the world.  He works very hard helping rich people avoid paying their taxes, and finds no reason why he should spend any time with his children, let alone any money on them.  So when the children’s mother dies in an unfortunate boating accident and subsequent require the services of a nanny, Mr. Green plants a sign in his front garden and waits for applicants to present themselves.  In walks Sarah Piggins, having recently left the circus, where she enjoyed the life of a star flying pig.  She knows nothing about being a nanny, and Mr. Green isn’t sure he wants to hire a pig, but she offers one thing he can’t refuse: she’s cheap, agreeing to work for only ten cents an hour.  Nanny acquired, Mr. Green can go back to ignoring his children, and Sarah, now Nanny Piggins has a new career.  What follows is a series of adventures featuring Nanny Piggins and the children, including school uniform shopping that turns into a trip to the amusement park, a trip to the beach nearly ruined by a terrible storm, and the arrival of Nanny’s adopted brother, Boris, the world’s best ballet dancing bear.

One might be tempted to compare Nanny Piggins to other nannies in children’s literature, but is certainly no Mary Poppins, or even Nurse Matilda (the inspiration for the film Nanny McPhee – which is delightful, by the way).  Nanny Piggins is a bit unlike any character I’ve come across before.  She’s incredible quick witted, though quite ignorant about certain details, like homework and the ocean.  She eats much and messily, but I always got the impression she was always well-dressed (this impression is no doubt due in part to Dan Santat’s charming, but somewhat unnecessary illustrations).  She’s a hoot.  The children are somewhat one dimensional characters, and I never really got a hold of them, but Nanny Piggins is such a powerhouse that I hardly noticed.

There’s a side to the book that is a little subversive, and some might call dangerous.  Spratt is certainly playing it close with the wild and unhealthy lifestyle that the Green children live while under Nanny Piggins’ care.  They seem to eat nothing but junk food, are encouraged to skip school and engage in such reckless behavior as throwing heavy objects off the roof.  It brings up the question of how responsible should fictional characters be, or rather, how much weight do we give to their irresponsibility when it comes to young readers?  Spratt gets away with what she does, I think, largely due to the books fantastic nature.  The main character is a pie-baking, talking, flying pig.  There’s no attempt at realism here.  The Adventures of Nanny Piggins is flat out comic fantasy, and a wonderful dose of laughs.  This is a perfect rainy day book (she writes as it storms outside), certain to charm you.  It’s almost as good as chocolate.

The Adventures of Nanny Piggins by R.A. Spratt
2010, Little, Brown Books
Library copy

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