review by Jack Kittredge
When I saw the ad for “Eliza the Pig” that Alexandra sent to promote her book in this issue, I asked if she would send a copy to me. I wanted to try read-ing it to our 7 and 9 year-old grandkids, Sammy and Anya, to see if they liked it.
The story is that of a typical Nebraska farm town which experiences the introduction of a CAFO (confined animal feeding operation) for hogs. The smells, wind blown sprays of liquid manure which spatter passing cars, and traffic, versus the lure of jobs and taxes come to divide the previously contented town.
While using a traditional 3rd party narrator, McClanahan focuses on telling the story as it is seen by the livestock living on the family farm of Angela and Joel, particularly by a somewhat empathic sow name Eliza. Doings among the people are filtered to the barn by Tommy, the housecat and only animal al-lowed into the farmhouse. There are some interesting thoughts about people that go through the animals’ heads, and discussions by them of the realities they face as livestock.
McClanahan clearly shows her love of farming in traditional Nebraska style – large mechanized family farms still keeping livestock and centered around family events in a town full of similar farmers. There is the expected criticism of CAFOs and corporate agriculture, but tempered by discussion of the reasons some townspeople support them and showing the pain all felt by being divided on the issue as the result of a court case brought by some towns-people against the CAFO. Fortunately the suit brings some relief from the CAFO’s excesses and people find their way back to being neighborly again.
To my surprise, Sammy and Anya loved this book despite having no kids in it (Angela and Joel’s children are grown now) and no pitched battles of good versus evil. They asked for it before any of the other books we were reading. Perhaps the animal perspective appealed to them. Perhaps the simple doings of a farm family (daily chores, weekly rituals, seasonal work) resonated with their own farming experiences.
In any case, if you want a birthday present to read to a kid who likes farms, this might be a winner. Besides, the chapters are very short so you can suc-cumb to cries for “another chapter, Pleeeze!” without much to lose!