It’s based on a true story – just like Steve McQueen’s “Great Escape” – but with pigs! According to the book’s jacket, the author of The Great Pig Escape read a story in the Cedar Rapids Gazette about a farmer who was taking his pigs to a livestock auction, and discovered they’d all escaped from the back of his truck. (“After the farmer discovered his loss, he retraced his trip and found all of his pigs in various parts of town, miraculously unhurt.”) Author Eileen Christlelow saw potential for a good children’s book, but she also decided to make a few changes in the story.
Bert and Ethel live together on a farm, and one day Bert suggests that they raise pigs. “Sounds like trouble to me,” says Ethel, but Bert buys six piglets anyways, and even Ethel admits that they’re cute. After a while, she’s the one who’s warning Bert not to hurt their feelings. She even shushes Bert when he says “Eight months from now they’ll be pork chops, so don’t go falling in love with them…”
And when Bert announces to Ethel that he’ll sell the pigs at the market the next day, she warns, “Sh-h-h! They’ll hear you!” Sure enough, all the pigs immediately stop slurping, and that night there’s some extra oinking in the pigpen. (“Sounds like they’re planning something,” warns Ethel…) Because Christlelow wrote and illustrated the book, she can hide extra jokes in the pictures. The next day Bert complains that he can’t find the bolt to lock his truck’s tailgate – but in the bottom corner of a picture, there’s a smiling pig prancing off with the bolt in his mouth!
It’s genuinely exciting when their big break-out comes. The pigs chew through the rope that Bert uses to tie the tailgate, and “As they bumped and rattled down the road toward town, the rope snapped… But Bert and Ethel didn’t notice.” When the couple stops for gas, two pigs scoot out and under a nearby fence. At each stop, more pigs scoot off into the scenery – and it seems like every pig has a smile on its face.
Christlelow’s simple, cartoon-like illustrations keep the story light, with just enough realism to make you root for the escaping pigs. Using watercolors and pen-and-ink drawings, she shows the farmer’s red truck, stopping for the blur of a speeding locomotive rushing past. At the edge of the drawing, two little pigs hop eagerly onto the road, and head off onto another farm. But by the end of the book, they’ve done something even more clever.
They’ve stolen clothes and disguised themselves – and then caught a bus for Florida!