In his successful attempt to reach out to a younger reading audience, Stephan Pastis has gathered age-appropriate examples from his successful syndicated comic strip, Pearls Before Swine. The collection is populated with the resident and familiar main characters, each launching their section of the book in their own individual fashion. Young readers are introduced to Rat, the snide and mean spirited anti-hero (my personal favourite); Pig, his simple and goodhearted roommate and possible friend; the more cerebral Goat, often the butt of Rat’s atrocious puns and comments; Zebra, whose main claim to fame is being the neighbour of and probable prey of the Crocs; and the Crocs themselves, who are an incompetent entity to themselves.
While the strips are chosen particularly for their relative inoffensiveness, the infamous delight and childishness of the individual characters is not lost in this collection for readers already familiar with the strip. Pastis’s developing illustrative style in rendering the various characters can be ascertained in this collection. It has been reprinted in a lush palate of colours aimed, perhaps, at younger readers who are attracted to colour. His witty and often literal interpretation of western society and its population is even more pronounced in this “starter” compilation because of the arrangement focusing on the individual characters (although, to be fair, it is really Rat’s book). The simple line drawings are enormously expressive, particularly when paired with the often zany but always creative text. The characters continuously face (not always heroically) similar anxieties and concerns that the readers do: relationships with friends, neighbours, and possible love interests; being successful in life pursuits; and being happy with one’s own image and place in society. The fact that they face these concerns head on, often with weapons of destruction, does not translate to a violent comic strip, but one that is reminiscent of the Saturday morning cartoon shows where viewers know that all the characters will survive and surface again and again without harm. The original layout of the panels has been modified to fit the page with white backgrounds, while the longer Sunday comic strips cover two full pages unified by brightly coloured backgrounds.
The publisher’s website includes a free four page teacher-guide that offers curriculum connections for English Language and Art for grades 2-6.