I first learned about this book through the recommendation of Carrie Gelson from There’s a Book for That during Valentine’s day. She shared that this is her most favorite picture book about love for all times, and naturally, I had to hunt this book down in our library, and boy am I glad I did. I also thought that this was a beautiful story to feature for our current bimonthly theme as we celebrate Beautiful Strangenesses, Unlikely Romances, and the Oddest Couple Imaginable. And Berkeley Breathed is simply a wonder.
Pete’s Perfectly Ordinary Life. Pete, our predictable, ever-pragmatic, and slightly-persnickety Pig had a normal, stress-free existence governed by schedules, quiet dinners in front of the TV, and occasional nightmares of drowning which is described as “the same terrifying watery nightmare all pigs dream during stormy nights.” His was a quiet and unruffled life chipped away by loneliness at the edges, creeping at the corners, totally unacknowledged and unrecognized because he seemed not to know any other life than the one he had after his wife died. Until one evening, when a Purple Being came into his life.
Miss Free Spirit meets Mister Order and Structure. Pickles was hiding from the Circus Clown, who is evidently mistreating her, when she accidentally found herself inside Pete’s house. While it seemed absurd to conceal someone as huge as this free soul, she was making a go for it in the most imaginable, strangest, funniest way possible. Mr. Order however, did the perfectly-logical thing which is to turn Pickles in when the Clown came knocking on his door. Pete thought that was the end of it when he was disinfecting his house the next day, only to find dandelions on his nightstand – a gift from his strange visitor in the night. Ridiculous, he thought. Yet he found himself drawn to the circus tents even though he had ‘tea’ on his schedule that day. And what he found disturbed him so much that he did something perfectly un-ordinary.
Without even realizing it, he got himself hopelessly entangled in this big girl’s life. Pete unlocked Pickle’s chains, took on a crazy-pink-wig disguise (that apparently worked) and brought Pickles home. And that was the beginning of a whole new era in Pete’s life, one that he could never have imagined possible.
Life Before Pickles
Life After Pickles
Life Before Pickles
Life After Pickles
Mismatched Sensibilities + Mutual Weirdnesses = Love. This particular quote from Dr. Seuss kept running through my head as I was reading this beautiful book. Yet more than anything, I was struck by how Berkeley Breathed shared that this book was actually inspired by his daughter’s pencil sketch of an elephant holding a hapless little pig by the coils of its nose. When he asked his daughter why the pig looked sad, his daughter replied with the ancient wisdom of someone who must have lived a thousand lives before this one: “Because he’s lonely, Dad. But he doesn’t know it” (source here).
Pete’s morning rituals, afternoon tea, short walks, and perfectly boring humdrum existence with only the television for company changed drastically when Pickles turned up in all her purple glory, morning tai-chi, tropical refreshment from Tahiti, and swan-diving off Niagara falls (sort ok, kinda, not quite but almost there).
It was when Pete returned home one evening and found ballet tryouts in Moscow, soaring para-cows over Tuscany and house painters on his roof that his thoughts turned to his earlier life. A less complicated life, thought Pete.
Of course it’s not always dandelions and back-scrubs and romantic Italian love songs – this unlikely pair would have to deal with each other’s strangenesses and play around with each other’s boundaries, seeing just how much one can bend without breaking, as they gradually understand and glimpse a vision of a life without the other. The ending is plain brilliant, and just like Carrie’s experience, it brought unbidden tears to my eyes. I can’t read this aloud without choking up. It’s just absolutely beautiful. Definitely a keeper.
Teacher Resource. For teachers who wish to use this inside the classroom, do visit this Carnegie Library link which contains activities that can be used in the classroom, a list of open-ended questions that may be used for discussion, journal prompts and vocabulary words.
About the Author. Before becoming known as a children’s book author/illustrator, Berkeley Breathed was first known as a cartoonist. He is said to be best known for his Bloom County, described in his website as a “1980s cartoon-comic strip which dealt with socio-political issues as seen through the eyes of highly exaggerated characters (e.g. Bill the Cat and Opus the Penguin) and humorous analogies.” This work earned him the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning in 1987. I am currently on the lookout for all of his available books here in Singapore. Click here to be taken to his official website and to know more about this amazingly-talented man.
Pete & Pickles by Berkeley Breathed. Published by Philomel Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, 2008. Book borrowed from the public library. Book photos taken by me.
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