Dial Books, the publisher of Victoria Jamieson’s Olympig!, released just in time for the Olympics, likes to tell you that this is a you-can’t-win-’em-all tale.

And they’re exactly right.

Jamieson, via expressive acrylics, tells the exuberant and earnest tale of Boomer, an oversized pig and the first one ever to compete in the Animal Olympics. Boomer fails spectacularly at all his events, all the while being tailed by a news reporter, waiting for just the right sound bite that he never actually gets.

With each failure, and there are many, I kept expecting this picture book to turn into the type of formulaic children’s book about winning that you tend to see a lot. Think: The just-believe-in-yourself-and-you’ll-succeed tale or the watered down we’re-all-winners kind of fluff.

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In fact, after he prepares for his first event, Boomer makes comments like, “If you practice and try your best, you can do anything!” and “Hard work and practice make an Olympic champion!”

Well, that’s just not always true. Everyone is working hard and practicing, but someone’s simply gotta lose.

Boomer keeps trying. And failing. “He was trying his best,” Jamieson writes. “Why did he keep losing?”

olympig After he fails at his cannonball in the diving competition, which he just knew would win him the gold, he altogether loses his cool. And badly. He quits, bursting into the locker room to commence his pity party. That pesky reporter snags Boomer’s mother for what he hopes will be a heartfelt interview. She declares that her son is not perfect, but she’s still proud of him.

The End, I thought.

Nope. “Boomer did not feel proud,” Jamieson writes. “Olympic champions did not quit. They practiced hard, they tried their best, and they never gave up.”

Oh, OK. I get it, I thought. He’ll nail the next event. Cue swelling music. The End. SNOOZE. I’ve seen these books before.

Wrong again. For the final event, the “gymnastics grand finale,” he apologizes for losing his temper, heads out there, takes his place (in a very funny illustration, the pig’s dramatic silhouette framed in a pre-routine pool of light, complete with a sparkly costume), tumbles, tangles, topples, and…well, he inadvertently flies through the ceremonial flame.  

And he receives the lowest score in Olympic history.

And the pig’s epiphany? “[T]oday has been terrific practice for the Winter Olympics!”

I find this book refreshing. In some ways, it brings to mind Kara LaReau’s and Scott Magoon’s Ugly Fish. Given Boomer’s attitude in the end, perhaps this has even more in common with Kevin Sherry’s very funny I’m the Biggest Fish in the Ocean, which perfectly captures the spirit and hubris of young children.

In a culture that sometimes tends toward so-called helicopter parenting, many parents sweep the problems of children right from their paths with the intention of boosting their self-esteem or making life sweat-free for them. But books like this acknowledge that some people will be, in this case, faster or stronger—and that, despite our best intentions and dedicated practice, we don’t always win.

In other words, here’s a rare book that recognizes limits. And does so with humor.

Again, you simply can’t win ’em all. But you might have some fun in the process. And you just might win next time anyway, if you don’t give up.

Let the games begin.

OLYMPIG! Copyright © 2012 by Victoria Jamieson. Published by Dial Books for Young Readers. Illustration reproduced with permission of Victoria Jamieson.

Julie Danielson (Jules) has, in her own words, conducted approximately eleventy billion interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog focused primarily on illustration and picture books.