When Claudia Rueda began her version of the story about a trio of pigs that build their houses of straw, wood and brick, and guard against a wolf, she wanted youngest readers to participate.
In her book, she invites readers to Huff & Puff, and the pigs surprise the wolf with their courage and hospitality. Here Rueda speaks of her inspiration.
Find more retellings of “The Three Little Pigs."
What made you decide to retell The Three Little Pigs?
I wanted to tell a story where a kid could blow through a hole. I thought, “What’s a story with huffing and puffing?” I love pigs, and I love the story of the Three Little Pigs. But I also wanted the reader to be one of the characters.
There’s such an enchanting rhythm in the repetition you set up for the elements of the story. How did you hit on that?
There were two things—the original story everyone loves has this repetition, the “huff and puff.” It’s like a song, with the repetition and rhythm. Nursery rhymes, songs, poetry—they all have that, and it’s perfect for the audience of littlest kids.
So it’s going along, and you come back to the repetition, but then at the end comes the surprise.
Even though you make clear in your drawings what each of the pig’s house is made of, you never state it in the text—just as you do not talk about what the pigs are making inside their houses.
I never tell the materials! I just realized this! The pigs have cooking utensils, but we don’t say what it is [they’re making]. Another clue is that one of the pigs is reading a cookbook, and another is reading about treating [guests] well. They are good readers. That’s why they can enchant the wolf.
And, of course, we are the wolves.
Yes, kids get a lot of information today, and they are making connections in very nonlinear ways. They will realize, “Maybe the author’s talking to us. Maybe the pigs are talking to us.” They are actively shaping the story. They become like a cowriter because they’re blowing the pigs’ houses down. I can’t wait to do story time with kids with this book.
You really distill the story down to its essence. Did that take some playing?
I love simple drawings and simple stories, so it was easy to come up with the simple line I use in the drawings. I wanted readers to know it’s not the original, but a retelling that will involve the author and the reader. The realization that it’s not the classic, little by little, is more interesting and moves you forward.
In your book, the pigs don’t run from the wolf to the safety of the next stronger house.
That’s another twist to the original story, a clue—what kind of wolf is that? The pigs are not afraid, as you can see from their faces. They’re upset: You blew down my house—it was cozy and nice. Like Max in Where the Wild Things Are, he’s not afraid, he’s upset. I love wolves, by the way, they look like dogs.
The end papers are a bit different stylistically from the rest of the book—the way you’ve created the sky. Is it collage?
We worked on that a lot. We wanted a nice cover—the drawings were done by hand, but it’s collage done in Photoshop—the best software on earth. We wanted to make it a never-ending story at the end, [when you see the pigs carting their straw, wood and bricks]. Kids at that age love to reread again and again. It’s nice to have the circle.
For those two books, I did graphics on the computer, and I was so happy to go back to pen and paper. If you master the software, you can master the tablet, but I wanted to leave the computer and go back to my drawings. I wanted something organic. I love sketching. I’m not a colorist. There are no trees; [there’s no] green grass. If you make a line that’s sketchy, you’re showing what’s inside the sketchbook of the artist. That’s a bit of metafiction, showing what’s behind the book.
The most difficult thing to draw is randomness, and nature has so much randomness. The way to make randomness is to keep your hand free. If I made the straw one by one, line by line, it would look too stiff, too artificial. You have to let your hand go.
That’s the Japanese way of training, to get freer as you progress. At the beginning, it’s very structured, but toward the end, you let your hand be free. I’ve been taking for a year a class in Japanese drawing. I’m doing this to unlearn [what I’ve been taught]. My Japanese teacher says that in martial arts, you wear a white belt at the beginning, and when you master it, you move toward the black belt. But when you really master the technique, white lines are added to the black belt. You master your technique and then you become a child again.
Jennifer M. Brown lives and reads in New York City and blogs at Twenty by Jenny.