The Star-News - March. 7, 2003

Don’t take the pigs’ word for it


There are moments when it’s a true joy to be an editor. Even editors of small community newspapers sometimes get invited to participate in national events alongside celebrities and politicians.

Such a moment occurred this Monday morning. The event was the Read Across America program. The place was Rosebank Elementary School, Chula Vista: one of thousands of schools across the country that invited local notables, and an editor, to read a story to a class of students as part of an annual reading motivation and awareness program celebrated on or around Dr. Seuss’s birthday.

It seemed sensible to allow the school to choose an appropriate book.

The teacher said she chose “The True Story of the Three Little Pigs” by Jon Scieszka because it has something to do with newspapers. This seemed to make no sense at all. But the fourth-graders crowded round and made themselves comfortable on the floor. So there was nothing to do but read them the story and hope for the best.

The book turned out to be a clever reworking of the well-known story that is traditionally told from the pigs’ point of view.

Scieszka’s yarn is spun from the point of view of a hungry wolf who just wanted to borrow a cup of sugar so he could bake a cake for his grandma.

It was an unfortunate sneeze that just happened to blow down the house of straw. And, when the first little pig was found dead in the wreckage, there was no point leaving that fresh pork to go to waste. The story ends when the surviving pig with the brick house calls the police, the wolf is arrested and gets his picture printed in the newspaper. The fourth graders then had a chance to ask questions.

Maybe four or five of them asked questions like, “Why are you wearing that blue suit with that tie?”

But when the teacher called off the fashion police, they settled down to discussing news values, the inverted pyramid structure and point-of-view with as much sophistication as you’d find in a group of college graduates. Many of them write and edit their school’s newspaper. They know how to write an attention-catching lead with all the important information summarized at the top.

They call it a “grabber.”

They know a story has to cover all the angles.

But, much more importantly, they know the benefit of living in a democracy where even a wolf convicted of serial porkicide gets to tell his side of the story.