Robert Newton Peck sure knows how to stir up trouble. A Day No Pigs Would Die, which was the very first book he ever wrote, has caused more controversy than any one would have expected from a story about a boy growing up on a farm in Vermont. But here's the thing: Peck isn't shy about including the gritty details of farm life. We don't want to give away too much, but let's just say that, um, Charlotte's Web this definitely ain't.
Kids loved the book, but it didn't take long before some grown-ups were finding problems with it. Its straightforward representation of animal breeding, as well as its honest depiction of the brutality of farm life, had people all up in arms. As early as 1973, just one year after its publication, the book was challenged as being inappropriate for children (source). And things only got worse from there. In the decades that followed, A Day No Pigs Would Die regularly showed up on the American Library Association's lists of the most frequently challenged books, and it continues to be challenged to this day. People just can't seem to keep from getting riled up over this book.
Meanwhile, though, kids keep reading it. There's just something about the story of poor Rob and his pig, up against the big forces of poverty and mortality, that keeps you turning pages.
Peck has gone on to write dozens more books, including a sequel to Pigs (A Part of the Sky, 1997), a how-to book for writers (How to Write Fiction Like a Pro, 2006), and an autobiography (Weeds in Bloom, 2005). His novels for young people are consistently popular with readers and are often cited by teachers as some of the best bets for kids who say they don't like to read.
But it all started with A Day No Pigs Would Die. So Shmoop's advice to you? Go read it already, and see what all the fuss is about.
There you are at the front of the classroom, soaked in sweat. You can feel your heart beating so hard you think it might come up through your throat, and everything you know about your presentation topic—the exports and geography of 19th-century Lithuania—has just disappeared completely from your brain. All those faces staring back at you, waiting. The teacher at the back of the room, clipboard in hand, ready to judge every word you say. The world spins in a blinding whirl of terror, and you think your only alternative is to run from the room and throw up in the hall because you just. can't. do it.
Okay, so maybe this is a little extreme. Maybe public speaking isn't that bad for you. But we know you know that feeling, that feeling you get when you just can't face up to what's ahead of you. Sooner or later, every last one of us has to do something—something—that we just don't think we can do. Something that makes us want to run away and pretend we were never born. Something that we're sure we're just not strong enough for. It's part of being human, and more than that, it's part of growing up.
A Day No Pigs Would Die is all about that moment: the moment you think you just can't face, but the moment you have to face. What gets you there, how you get through it, and what it feels like coming out the other side.
We're going to go out on a limb here and bet that your moment probably won't involve the same—um—sacrifice that takes place in the book, but when it comes down to it, you and Rob, the book's narrator, are going to be in the same boat. Everyone goes there, and everyone's got to find a way to survive it.
Straight from the pig's—er, horse's—mouth
Robert Newton Peck's very own web site.
The Shakers, Plain and Simple
Check out this brief history of the Shaker sect. How does the author do in portraying it?
All About the Man
Here's a biography of Robert Newton Peck, with a list of his published books. You know you want to dig into more.
Writer to the Rescue!
Check out this blog post from a teacher whose decision to teach a little differently was supported by a classroom visit from Robert Newton Peck. (How can we get in on that action?!)
Can You Keep a Secret?
A blow-by-blow description of Peck's how-to book for writers, Secrets of Successful Fiction.
And It Isn't Even Your Birthday
Want to get a feel for the Shaker way of life? Listen to this Shaker tune, "Simple Gifts."
Pigs Road Trip
Enjoy a sample from the audio book edition of A Day No Pigs Would Die. You tell us—is it even sadder when read aloud?
Or wait… is this Crocodile Dundee?
A little on the ominous side, huh?
Autumn Field Trip, Anyone?
Feast your eyes on this picture of the Vermont countryside.