Friday, May 31, 2013

Book Review #19: The Adventures of South Pole Pig

This month's Animal Fantasy Book Review features an animal I haven't blogged about before: pigs!  (And a cold-weather pig at that!)  The Adventures of South Pole Pig by Chris Kurtz is a fun read whether it's 33 or 93 degrees outside.  Here's the summary from the book jacket:

Flora's a die-hard dreamer.  She's never left the farm, but she knows she was born for adventure.  She's determined to become a sled pig!  What could be nobler than racing across the snow, puling a fast sled, and being part of a team?  And what could be crazier?

Could her dream really come true?

Before she learns the answer, Flora must maneuver a harrowing sea voyage, avoid a bacon-loving cook, and endure deadly conditions after she and the crew are shipwrecked.  How long can they survive?  Who will save them?  And what will happen to Flora, whose companions see her as more of a meal than an adventurer? 

It's hard not to love a protagonist whose biggest concern is to avoid ending up on the dinner table.  (Which is a very big concern, indeed!)  The basic plot brings to mind Charlotte's Web and Babe, but Kurtz puts a unique spin on the please-don't-eat-me story by placing the plucky pig, Flora, in an unusual circumstance with equally unusual dreams.  This twist on a familiar tale, plus his focus on a female character, make The Adventures of South Pole Pig really stand out from the other books around the barnyard.

The fact that Flora is a female protagonist didn't strike me as unusual while I was reading the book.  It wasn't until after I was finished and thinking about this post that I realized something odd: the majority of protagonists in my Animal Fantasy Book Review series have been male.  Out of nineteen total book reviews, about 75% of the stories have actually had male protagonists!  (And if they featured a female protagonist, a strong male character usually accompanied them.)  Flora breaks the mold by not only being a female herself, but finding herself partnered with a sassy female kitty called Sophia.  Why are male protagonists more common, you ask?  I've often heard that boys will *only* read books about boys, while girls will read books about boys OR girls, so authors tend to write about males characters to increase their audience.  (Of course I know that's not 100% accurate, and there are plenty of young male readers out there who like girl characters just fine.)  Flora is the perfect example of a female protagonist that appeals to all readers regardless of gender: she's brave, adventurous, vulnerable, kind, and downright lovable.  If she was a male, her daring do might be expected; in Flora, it's delightfully unexpected and adds so much to the story.  This is definitely something to think about when deciding if a male or female protagonist would best tell your own story.

Flora's ambitions and circumstances are just as unique as she is.  Kurtz puts his common farm animal character in an uncommon setting, giving her rather un-piggish dreams, too.  When not worrying about who wants to eat her, Flora dreams about becoming a sled pig.  She trains, she learns all she can, and she tries to show her worth to everyone.  Her brothers are lazy and content to lay around the pigpen, but she is strong and determined to live a life of adventure.  When Flora is picked out to be livestock (er, bacon) for an Antarctic expedition, she leaves the farmland and enters a world of blizzards and icebergs.  Pigs and snow may not seem to go together at first glance, but she proves this misconception wrong.  Though she needs a coat to keep her warm, her hooves are great for picking their way across ice-crusted snow, and her heart is as big as any sled dog's.  It turns out to be a winning combination: pigs + snow = awesome!  Throw in the fact that the crew is desperate to eat her after getting shipwrecked, and the stakes are even higher than some other piggies awaiting their fates back on the farm.  (No one was going to starve to death if Wilbur didn't get eaten in Charlotte's Web!)  Flora must be one tough pig as she strives to battle the elements, avoid the chopping block, achieve her sled-dog dreams, and ultimately save the day.  And yes, she does so all while being a female.  ;)  There is no doubt that Flora is a one-of-a-kind protagonist with a one-of-a-kind story, the type of book every writer dreams of creating.

If you enjoy tales filled with adventure and heart, The Adventures of South Pole Pig is a great pick for you.  If you like stories about underdogs (or rather underpigs), then this is definitely a winner for you!  And if you want to write a unique animal fantasy story, you can definitely learn a thing or two from studying this delightful novel. 

You can find out more about Chris Kurtz and his books at

And if you read this book, do let me know!  I'd love to hear what you think.  :)

Happy reading!  

Note: Summary blurb is from the jacket copy; cover art is from the book website and (c) Jennifer Black Reinhardt.

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