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OPINION: A gem of a 'Pignic' picture book

"Pignic" is by author and illustrator Matt Phelan. (Publicity photo)

Going on a picnic is always an adventure. Especially if it's a pignic.

"Pignic," by author and illustrator Matt Phelan, is a gem of a picture book.

In fewer than 50 words, he captures the hopes, disappointments, and unexpected joys that come when a family of little pigs spends an afternoon outside.

First, one of the little pigs finds a tree to climb. Uh-oh. The branch is too high. But then the unexpected occurs. Hooray! A turtle offers to be a step stool.

Next, the pigs want to fly their red kite. Readers think that the problem will be the giant blue wolf tiptoeing behind them.

But the "Uh-oh" is something different — there's no wind. That's when another unexpected splash of joy occurs. Hooray! The sympathetic wolf huffs and puffs and blows the kite high into the sky.

After a pignic of plums and pretzels, dark clouds roll in. Uh-oh. Then, the clouds release a deluge of rain, marvelously illustrated with streams of grey watercolor.

Is there hope for a "Hooray?"

As I mentioned, "Pignic" is a gem. The sentences are short. The cadence is strong. In fact, kids will quickly learn the pattern of "Uh-oh," followed by "Hooray!"

Although the book is gentle, the illustrations offer slight tension. On the opening page spread, the blue wolf is off to one side, mostly hidden by the rocks. When he sneaks up behind the pigs during the kite scene, he looks ferocious.

However, author Matt Phelan never presents the wolf as truly dangerous. The blue of his pelt is much too pretty, and the pigs don't look overly-stressed by his presence. In fact, the wolf's expression quickly changes to concern when he realizes there is no wind.

My favorite illustration occurs at the end. After the wonderful climax (which I'm not going to reveal!), the pig family heads home: happy, dirty, and tired.

The watercolor sunset is rosy-purple. The windows of their little house are red-orange with warmth. The day is done, but the happy colors suggest the "hooray" of the future.

"Pignic" is fun, satisfying, and silly. Best, it demonstrates the presence of hope and optimism, even in the presence of the "uh-oh's" of life.

"Pignic." By Matt Phelan. Greenwillow Books, 2018. 32 pp.

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