The Incredible Journey: The Adventures of a South Pole Pig by Chris Kurtz
"Mom, why do we have to live in a cage?" Flora dug in the dirt at something hard and rusty.
"Honey, don't do that," her mother nosed her away. "And it's not a cage. It's a pigpen."
"Same thing," said Flora under her breath.
Flora loves her mom and her piglet brothers, but she knows she’s not like them. ”If it’’s unexplored and needs to get dug up, call me. I’m your pig,” is her motto, and when this self-proclaimed adventurer piglet makes a short-lived escape from the pigpen, she is inspired by the sight of sled dogs in training, led by the dedicated Oscar, born to pull. Flora is a pig who wants to pull, too, and following Oscar becomes her plan.
Flora begins to train for the job as best she can in a pigpen, and when a man with a crate appears, apparently determined to capture one piglet, she sees this as her chance to embrace adventure. Her trip on a truck with Oscar and the other sled dog trainees winds up on a dock, where she meets a cat named Sophia, whose job is rat-killing and whose personal style is supercilious. Flora, however, is sure she is destined to be the first pig to pull a sled in an Antarctic expedition.
But Flora finds herself, along with the shanghaied Sophia, below deck in the hold. Sophia at least has a job, disagreeable as it is, trying to do away with the huge rat population aboard ship, but Flora finds herself chained to a crate in the dark, where she is at least well-fed by Amos, the ship’s cook, who inexplicably calls her “my pretty porkchop.” Still, Flora’s hopes are high, and she continues to train, building up her strength by dragging the crate to which she is chained and assisting the overmatched Sophia by using her sharp hind hooves to kill the rats who take her slops from right under her snout.
And Flora’s strong legs save her bacon when the ship strikes an iceberg and begins to sink. She becomes the hero of the shipwreck when she pulls the injured captain out of the flooding hold and up onto deck. The remnant of the rescued crew, friendly cabin boy Aleric, and the surviving Sophia find themselves marooned on the Antarctic coast with few supplies. It is only then that Sophia and Oscar explain to Flora that her intended role on this expedition is to provide meat for the crew. Oscar and Sophia hide Sophia in a secret snow cave to keep her from becoming survival rations, and Flora almost despairs of her fate. The few able-bodied seaman fashion a sled from their lifeboat and set out for the food cache stored by an earlier expedition, leaving Flora behind with Aleric, the injured captain, and the ailing Oscar.
But when it looks as if the crew’s mission must have failed, Aleric mounts his own expedition. Fashioning a sort of sled from barrels staves and crates for the captain, and with himself and the weakened Oscar pulling, they set out to find the stored food themselves, and soon Sophia and Flora determine to follow. Flora is sure that Aleric and Oscar need her help, and the plucky pig is sure she’s just the puller the team needs to make it to the supplies.
Christopher Kurtz’s just published The Adventures of a South Pole Pig: A Novel of Snow and Courage is a marvelous little adventure with as much spirit and heart as its heroine hog. Flora proves that pulling is a participatory sport and that a pig can be an important part of the team with all the pluck and loyalty that a proper heroine needs to have.
Kurtz’ storytelling is flawless, and Jennifer Black Reinhardt’s pen-and-ink illustrations capture the comic insouciance of this be-snouted star perfectly. Back up, Babe; move over, Mercy Watson; and watch out, Wilbur. There’s a new preferred porcine protagonist in town, a new heroine in the pig pantheon who has found her place in the adventurous life she dreamed of back on the farm. As Flora sails forth, feet planted firmly on the bow, her tail flying, and her snout to the wind, we just know that more incredible journeys lie ahead.