CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 25 . . . . March 2, 2018
Now a first year student at McGill University, Jessica Haight was in her graduating year at Argyle Secondary School in North Vancouver when she self-published Big Adventures Come in Small Packages. In a September 7, 2017, interview published in the Vancouver Sun, Jessica told the interviewer that she began writing Big Adventures Come in Small Packages when she was just 15-years-old. The title's "small packages" refer to guinea pigs. In the same article, Jessica explained why she chose guinea pigs to be the story's main characters. "My family and I love animals, so I had the fortune of growing up with four guinea pigs. They are very friendly, social and of course adorable animals. I thought it would be unique to write from a guinea pig's perspective, which would allow me to weave in my knowledge of guinea pig behaviour and care."
When readers first meet Cinnamon Roll in a pet store, she and five of her "piggy" friends are anticipating being adopted (purchased?) by humans that very day. Cinnamon Roll hopes that whoever takes her will also adopt Apricot, her best friend among the other piggies. However, that doesn't happen. Instead, Cinnamon Roll finds herself in a new cage with Guinea Girl and Sweetie at the home of 10-year-old Rose and her parents, Arthur and Theresa. From a guinea pig who had been returned to the store because its owners had moved, Cinnamon Roll had earlier learned a few things about the outside world, including the fact "that when you joined a family you usually started with a new identity:" And so, she is not surprised when she learns that, according to Rose, her name is now Cinnamon, Guinea Girl has become Pixie and Sweetie is Button.
Because Cinnamon's long-ago descendants had been prey for carnivores in the Andes mountains of South America, she and her fellow guinea pigs genetically retain a fear of open spaces where they could be vulnerable to predation. From her perch in the cage, Cinnamon can look through a floor-length window to the yard outside, and twice she believes she sees a vague shape which seems to be lingering, a situation that causes her fear. Later, when Rose takes her piggies to play in their outdoor cage, Pixie picks up a new odour, concluding, "There's a wild animal close to us." Towards the end of the book, that shadow Cinnamon had detected manifests itself as a skunk which enters the house in search of food and then does what a skunk does when it feels threatened - it sprays. In an act of enormous bravery to escape the "monster", Cinnamon, who had previously concluded, "As long as we're inside, we're safe", leads "her" piggies, plus a visiting trio of guinea pigs, to the "safety" of the backyard.
Overall, Haight is generally quite effective in presenting the world through the eyes (and sometimes the noses and ears) of a number of guinea pigs, with Cinnamon being the primary lens. Haight correctly recognizes that pets, in this case guinea pigs, each have different personalities, and she even includes a verbal bully via Sugar, one of the visiting piggies that had been brought over by one of Rose's friends for a guinea pig play date.
Food ("To me, eating is serious business," acknowledges Cinnamon) and fear appear to be central to a guinea pig's life, and both are abundantly present in Big Adventures Come in Small Packages. Haight's choice of vocabulary, words such as trembled, shaking, cowering, nervous, cringe, jumpy, shivered, terrified and shuddered, reminds readers that, as prey, guinea pigs must always remain vigilant.
Though the piggies converse amongst themselves, Haight supplies the sounds that the humans hear the guinea pigs making, and so, among other noises, the guinea pigs wheek (I initially thought this was a made-up word, but it's real - the sound made by a guinea pig), squeak, chatter, scream shrilly, yelp, purr and chatter. When humans speak, their words appear in italics, and, although, Haight has Cinnamon claiming, "… I didn't understand their [humans'] language…", on the very same page, Cinnamon understands the word "outside". Other "understanding" slips occasionally occur as do a few instances of Haight's making the piggies a bit too human-like by, for instance, having them grin, shed tears or have a quivering lip caused by sadness. Additionally, at one point, Haight has Pixie exclaim, "Oh iceberg lettuce!" which causes Cinnamon to react: "I was stunned. I had never heard her say such vile words." Piggy profanity? And, Pixie pejoratively (apparently) said of Cinnamon: "You ate like a gerbil…", but Haight never explains why this simile is to be seen as an insult.
Not only did Haight author Big Adventures Come in Small Packages, but she also supplied its illustrations. Each of the book's 11 chapters concludes with, or is introduced by, one of her black and white illustrations with 10 of them involving images of guinea pigs. The twelfth, that of the skunk, is the least successful example of her artwork.
Overall, Big Adventures Come in Small Packages is a fun read, and Haight's endearing portrayal of the piggies could definitely lead to some young readers asking, "Mom, Dad, can we get some guinea pigs?"
Dave Jenkinson, CM's editor, lives in Winnipeg, MB.