CM . . .
. Volume XI Number 16 . . . . April 15, 2005
As soon as Juliet steps on a stage, her knees tremble, her mouth turns dry as dust, and she is struck dumb. Tired of being teased for her shyness, Juliet escapes to the country to visit her grandmother. There, she tends the garden, plays checkers with Grandma Hogsworth, studies foreign languages, practices ballet and memorizes great plays such as Hamlet and George Barnyard Shaw's Pigmalion. One day at the market, the timid piglet finds everyone in a great state of excitement. The famous French director, Monsieur Phillipe Le Cochon, is coming to town to direct Pigmalion! Has Juliet the courage to audition? With her grandmother's encouragement, off she goes to the theatre. From the balcony, she watches as each would-be piglet thespian auditions for the starring role of Eliza Piglittle. Juliet knows she can read for the part with the drama and passion M. Le Cochon wants, but she cannot overcome her fear to try out. Finally, after the auditions are over and all the piglets have left, Juliet summons the nerve to lean over the balcony and recite the lines of Eliza Piglittle in her sweet, clear, enchanting voice.
Alas, Juliet's courage fails once again. However, before she flees, she promises not only to take the part, but also to be there on opening night. At this point, the story goes right off the rails, as the likelihood of a director (even in Pigsville) casting an actor who will not attend rehearsals is simply ridiculous. That the cast and director would rehearse right up to the evening of the production without the main character (even though M. Le Cochon spies the retiring star peeking out from behind the scenery) is even more improbable. On opening night, however, justifying that old theatre cliché, "It will be all right on the night, "sure enough Juliet steps onto the stage and delivers her lines "with such passion, such sparkle, such joy that the audience was spellbound." Juliet basks in the adulation of the crowd and cheers of "Bravo, Juliet" as she takes her curtain call.
A reader might be forgiven for being confused about the theme of Pigmalion, which, according to the author, is facing one's fears to follow one's dreams. To anyone who has had experience with children and performances, Pigmalion sends entirely the wrong message. The story implies that talent is sufficient for stardom without the essential steps of self-discipline, acceptance of direction and teamwork. The book has the effect of encouraging would-be performers to expect success and glory at the final curtain despite an unwillingness to take part in the necessary work leading up to that success.
As for Leznoff's text, it is certainly lively and amusing and will hold the attention of young listeners, despite the fact that some of the "pig-puns" will go over their heads. Rachel Berman is a talented artist whose stylish illustrations appear to set the story in a bygone era somewhere in France. Her costuming of the pigs in shawls, long skirts, and pinafores with the rakish Phillipe Cochon sporting bow tie and sunglasses is clever and seems to suggest the early 20th century setting of the original Pygmalion.
In all, Pigmalion is just the right length for an enjoyable storytime reading to the kindergarten to Grade 3 group and should provide some good discussion opportunities on the subjects both of shyness and play participation.
A retired teacher-librarian, Valerie Nielsen lives in Winnipeg, MB.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.