Wicked stepmothers and virtuous, long-suffering maidens are a ubiquitous pairing in folktales from around the world, as Pigling: A Cinderella Story attests. This made-for-classroom-use comic offers grade school readers a Korean variation on the familiar story, one enlivened by the presence of talking animals (no need to rely on Disney to imagine them) and a deliciously evil stepmother-and-stepsister pair.
Pigling: A Cinderella Story
Script by Dan Jolley, Art by Anne Timmons
Age Rating: 9 – 14
2009, Graphic Universe, ISBN: 978-1-58013-825-3
48 pp, $8.95
Pigling tells the story of Pear Blossom, a young girl who is the apple — or, more accurately, the pear — of her elderly parents’ eye. Around her thirteenth birthday, Pear Blossom’s mother passes away, prompting Pear Blossom’s grief-stricken father to marry a woman with a teenage daughter of her own. The two women conspire to make Pear Blossom’s life difficult, inventing wearisome tasks, insulting her, and giving her a cruel nickname: Pigling. Though many of Pear Blossom’s tasks seem impossible — filling a leaky water jug, hulling a large pile of rice — magical animals come to her aid, allowing her to escape her stepmother’s punishments.
Angry that Pear Blossom has successfully met these impossible challenges, the stepmother cooks up an even more fiendish scheme, promising Pear Blossom that she may attend the village festival on one condition: that Pear Blossom weed the family’s neglected rice paddies, a chore that, under normal circumstances, would take several days. Once again, an animal comes to her aid, freeing Pear Blossom to leave the farm. She encounters a handsome magistrate on the road to the festival, but thinking herself unworthy of his attention, flees the scene, leaving behind one of her sandals. You can probably guess the rest: the nobleman seeks out the sandal’s owner, rebuffing the stepmother’s efforts to persuade him that her daughter should be his bride, and marrying the lovely Pear Blossom.
Though Dan Jolley’s script relies a little too heavily on narration, the decision to tell rather than show serves a didactic purpose, allowing young readers to grasp what’s happening while learning small but telling details about Korean culture. Anne Timmons’ artwork is colorful and appealing, using the visual conventions of American comics to tell this Korean story in a naturalistic, engaging fashion.
Like the other titles in the Graphic Myths and Legends series, Pigling has been crafted with meticulous attention to detail. Jolley and Timmons consulted an expert at the University of California to ensure that the story’s setting was historically accurate, giving special attention to costumes, hairstyles, naming conventions, proper titles, customs, and architecture. The script is supplemented with a glossary of terms (Korean and English) as well as a suggested reading list for teachers interested in developing a lesson plan in comparative folklore; the only thing missing is a set of discussion questions to frame students’ exploration of the story. Still, that’s a minor quibble for a nicely designed book that should appeal to readers in grades four through six. (N.B. The publisher’s suggested age range is 9-14, but the script skews too young to hold the attention of teens reading at or above grade level.)
This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by Graphic Universe. All images copyright of Lerner Publishing Group.