Rarely do I pick up a new book (for kids) and know this will be an instant classic. But such is the case with this season’s new title by J.K. Rowling – The Christmas Pig.
Take all-time favourites and classics like The Phantom Toll Booth, The Velveteen Rabbit and The Polar Express. Stir into a cauldron of great language and word play, sprinkle liberally with the magic of Harry Potter and add some outlandish adventures such as in the 80’s movie Flight of the Navigator, and you come close to The Christmas Pig.
This thick novel, which can be read aloud to the whole family, curled up together by the Christmas tree, or read by avid young readers themselves, is a whirlwind adventure of Christmas and bedtime, stuffed animals and evil villains. Black and white art by Jim Field lends a classic feel to the book.
The story starts off dealing with an ordinary family. Jack is little when his parents end up getting divorced. You come to understand the little boy who bottles up his feelings and heavily relies on his favourite stuffed animal, you guessed it – a little piggy, to keep Jack’s whispered secrets to itself.
Enter a new man in his mom’s life, who brings along Holly, who becomes Jack’s new stepsister. Being a teenager, Holly brings mood swings and bad tempers into the family. One Christmas Eve, Holly is fed up with everything that is unfair and tosses Jack’s trusted stuffed pig out of the car window. That night, Jack falls asleep, full of anger and tears.
The adventures that follow are Harry Potter-esque: toys and objects come to life, whisking Jack away to the Land of Lost Things. Told in typical J.K. Rowling style, everything that happens seems quite plausible: there’s a land where everything that is Lost ends up. The objects, and feelings too, are sorted into ‘much loved’ or ‘barely missed’ Things. If no human cared about them at all, and does not even miss them, these Things eventually will be eaten by the terrible, scary, voracious Loser. But if there is a glimmer of hope, they might rise again to live on earth among their beloved humans.
Jack’s adventures, as well as the writing style, are brilliant. He travels to snow covered villages, on toy trains and is pursued by Loss Adjusters. Once I got to the part where a lost garden glove plays the honky-tonk piano, I realized that I was ‘seeing the movie’ in my head. This story will undoubtedly become a favourite Christmas movie before long.
Only J. K. Rowling can use her brilliant fantasy to bring to life a king called Power, a queen called Happiness and some very plausible Principles, all lost to their original owners and now leading a life under the painted ceiling of the Land of the Lost. Perhaps my favourite character is Poem, a papery thin lady who only speaks in rhyme as she helps the hero along.
The story starts of with a very young child and stuffed animals – making this a great book to share with small children. However, towards the middle the story turns dark and quite scary in places. As the Loser ‘sucks life’ out of Things and discards them in the ever burning fires, I thought… hhhmm… not sure I want to read these, sometimes quite graphic, descriptions to 6 year olds. But suddenly I remembered myself as a six-year-old eagerly listening to the books my mom read to me. My favourite stories came in a thick, leather bound book: Grimm’s Fairytales. The best ones were those in which the wicked witch’s head was chopped off or she was stuffed in the oven. Never did I suffer a sleepless night from those gruesome tales. They showed me what was right and what was wrong. They taught me morals. They ensured me that wicked ways were punished.
In her important book Touch Magic, Jane Yolen demonstrates the importance of folk and fairy tales which imparted morals on people for centuries until we started to replace all the scary parts with syrupy sweet ones because they were too scary for kids to handle, even if the evening news on TV is much scarier. Perhaps J.K. Rowling is doing kids a favour by reverting back to the strength of classic fairytales in this new Christmas story. The underlying message of ‘too much stuff’, of reduce, reuse and recycle is a bit much and I would have liked to know with a bit more certainty that the evil Loser disappears in the end. But it’s good to know that Things like Hope, Happiness and Love will conquer all. Even if Jack appears to wake up and perhaps it all was a dream, there’s enough evidence to make me buy into believing in the magic of Jack’s adventures. Including the wisdom and support he was given by Santa Claus himself.
I can see this book becoming a beloved Christmas tradition to be read annually in any family. And if I were a movie maker, I’d snap up the rights quicker than you can say ‘Merry Christmas’!
ISBN 978-1-338-79023-8, Scholastic