The Pig War: How a Porcine Tragedy Taught England and America to Share
Emma Bland Smith, Author
Alison Jay, Illustrator
Calkins Creek, Nonfiction, Nov. 10, 2020
Suitable for ages: 7-10
Themes: Pig, San Juan, Settlers, Americans, British, War, Sharing
Opening: “On this spring day, an American settler name Lyman Cutlar looked out of his window and spied a large pig rooting in his potato patch. The pig was British. Or at least its owner was.”
In 1859, the British and Americans coexist on the small island of San Juan, located off the coast of the Pacific Northwest. They are on fairly good terms–until one fateful morning when an innocent hog owned by a British man has the misfortune to eat some potatoes on an American farmer’s land. In a moment of rash anger, Lyman Cutlar shoots Charles Griffin’s pig, inadvertently almost bringing the two nations to war. Tensions flare, armies gather, cannons are rolled out . . . all because of a pig!
Emma Bland Smith’s humorous text and Alison Jay’s folksy illustrations combine in this whimsical nonfiction picture book that models the principles of peaceful conflict resolution.
Why I like this book:
Emma Bland Smith has written a delightful story about a nugget of history few people know about. It is a true story about how two great nations almost went to war over a poor pig that paid the ultimate price. Smith’s humor and whimsical storytelling makes for an intriguing read. “Maybe Lyman hadn’t had his coffee. Maybe he’d slept poorly. Maybe he was thinking of the many painful miles he’d rowed to buy the potato seed. But for whatever reason, when he saw that pig, he got cranky.” Tempers flare between the two neighbors and result in the deployment of the Queen’s military and American battleships. “Oh dear. What started as Pig Incident and turned into a Pig Argument was fast escalating into a Pig Situation.” Eventually both sides put down their weapons and islanders agree to look beyond their differences and share.
Alison Jay’s illustrations are rendered in a crackle glaze varnish which give each illustration a mid-19th century feel to the story. Her folksy illustrations are warm and invite readers into this fun and humorous story.
Resources: This is a great discussion book! Make sure you check out the Author’s Note that goes into more detail about the incident and what the Pig War teaches readers today about sharing resources and solving problems peacefully. She shares historical pictures of the U.S. Army soldiers and the Royal Marines.
Emma Bland Smith is a children’s librarian and professional writer. Her first picture book, Journey: Based on the True Story of QR7, the Most Famous Wolf in the West, won Bank Street College’s Cook Prize and Northland College’s SONWA award. She is also the author of To Live on an Island and the Maddy McGuire, CEO, chapter book series. Many of her books feature real-life animals. She lives with her husband and two kids in San Francisco. Visit her at her website.