|photo credit to Nikko Custodio
|Harold & Hog Pretend for Real!
by Dan Santat cover
Could Harold and Hog Pretend for Real earn Geisel recognition? Sure, obviously it could. It has all the hallmarks of a winner or honor: Clear, easy to parse design, concise storytelling, controlled vocabulary with lots of repetition, illustrations that support the reader as they decode, humor, and stakes that rise with each page turn, propelling the story to its satisfying conclusion. As a meta-satirical “Elephant and Piggie” title, it’s a textbook example of what’s won in the past: Willems’ "Elephant and Piggie" titles have taken two golden Geisel medals and five honors (not counting the Elephant and Piggie Like Reading titles, as they have different authors/illustrators.)
The 2017 gold medal went to "Elephant and Piggie Like Reading" title We Are Growing by Laurie Keller, which coincidentally shared a release date with The Cookie Fiasco, the only other series entry (to date) penned by Santat and Willems. So there’s precedent for both “Elephant and Piggie” books and for “Elephant and Piggie Like Reading” books to earn Geisel citations. Perhaps it’s also worth noting that Willems’ We Are in a Book, a 2010 Geisel honor, is, like this title, one that stretches the confines of what we expect an easy reader to be and do in terms of storytelling and self-reference.
But whereas We Are in a Book breaks the 4th wall, this book knocks down that wall, replaces it with a mirror, and then sets up another mirror opposite the first, creating a delightful and recursive callback cycle that loops ad infinitum.
Finally, consider the Geisel criteria “demonstrate creativity and imagination to engage children in reading” Huh. Wait—if the premise of this story is Gerald and Piggie reading a book about Harold and Hog pretending to be Gerald and Piggie...doesn’t that mean Harold and Hog Pretend for Real is literally simultaneously about and demonstrating creativity and imagination to engage the book’s reader? I mean, what even is pretending if not creativity and imagination?!
Ouch. I think I broke my brain.