Not By the Warts of My Chinny-Chin-Chin: Mogo, the Third Warthog by Donna Jo Napoli
Squeaks and rustles and roars and stamps and slippy-slidey noises filled the night. I pressed my rump harder against Mathani's and Kebiro's.
We were lost. Three little pigs. Lost.
Mother said to find an abandoned aardvark burrow, as if that was something easy.
It wasn't easy.
And that mean old sow told us to grow up and act responsible. As though that was easy, too.
Nothing was easy.
Donna Jo Napoli, whose Ugly revisited Andersen's Ugly Duckling in an Australian setting, has given us another take on a famous tale, Grimm's Three Little Pigs, in her latest wildlife adventure Mogo, the Third Warthog, this time with a young warthog boar named Mogo as the unlikely hero.
Mogo and his two litter mates are nearing maturity, and when his mother gives birth to a new litter, the young boars are forced out to follow their fortunes in the perilous world of the savanna. Their mother, a strong and wise sow, has prepared them as best she can. "Run and dodge," she counsels, and as the three young brothers take on survival without her, that advice is followed frequently as they meet up with hunting lionesses, cheetahs, hyenas, and wild dogs who lust after a tasty young porker.
In their first days of making their way in the wide world, Kebiro, the largest-born and most macho brother, takes the lead, but it is really Mogo, the cautious one, who advises the brothers to feed near a black rhino, small herds of zebra and antelope, and even among a clan of mongooses for safety. But a pack of vicious wild dogs, fast, smart, and indefatigable, seem to have a vendetta against the young warthogs. Mogo urges his lazy brothers to undertake the difficult digging of a burrow deep and wide enough for all to share, but Mathani chooses the fragile shelter of the mongoose burrow inside a termite mound, and Kebiro makes do with a shallow and narrow aardvark hole, into which he has to enter backward.
One by one the dog pack digs out the foolish brother warthogs and eats them, and sorrowful and lonely, Mogo realizes that the largest of the dogs is determined to make a meal of him as well. Befriended by a lone adolescent baboon, Mogo realizes that he, too, has been cast out by his group, and the two form an easy alliance. As he forages among a large baboon troop for protection, Mogo finds a way to encourage the group to accept his friend, and when the monster wild dog tracks him down as he feeds one day, his friend and the other powerful male baboons turn the canine predator into their own prey. Mogo realizes that, with his impenetrable burrow and the fearless baboon troop on his side, he is now safe from the wolf at his door.
The Lion King notwithstanding, a warthog makes an improbable hero, but Napoli's knowledge of the savanna environment and her edge-of-the-seat style puts the reader on Mogo's side in his perilous world and keeps young readers flying through this skillfully-written wildlife adventure.