Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Harold & Hog Pretend For Real! by Dan Santat

photo credit to Nikko Custodio
Sylvie Shaffer served on the 2018 Geisel Committee. She’s the preK-8 librarian at the Capitol Hill Day School in Washington, DC and is active in several overlapping kidlit-focused communities including ALSC and Capitol Choices. She is currently serving on the Sydney Taylor Book Award and is busy parenting her own six year old emerging reader with help from her wife in Takoma Park, Maryland where she also serves on the Board of the Friends of her local library. You can find her online at

Harold & Hog Pretend for Real!
by Dan Santat cover
Harold and Hog Pretend for Real is the brain-bending story of Gerald and Piggie reading the story of Harold (an elephant who looks quite a bit like Gerald) and Hog (a pig resembling Piggie) pretending to be Gerald and Piggie, who are reading the book Harold and Hog Pretend for Real. Things get hectic (in typical Elephant and Piggie style) when, after realizing that Hog is too careful to effectively pretend to be carefree Piggie, and exuberant Harold has trouble tempering his verve enough to play staid and nervous Gerald, the porcine/pachyderm pair comes to the conclusion that if they can’t even pretend to be best friends...maybe they can’t BE best friends, either! As in other “Elephant and Piggie Like Reading” entries, and in “Elephant and Piggie” books, the story is told entirely in color-coded dialogue bubbles, and the book’s all-over design—cover, endpapers, trim size, page count, font—looks like an "Elephant and Piggie" title. It’s very smart, very funny, and very, very meta.

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.

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