Review (The Three Little Javelinas)

Bibliography: Lowell, Susan and Jim Harris. The Three Little Javelinas. Lanham, Maryland: Cooper Square Publishing Llc, 1992. ISBN-13: 978-0873585422

Plot Summary: This is a different take of the story of the Three Little Pigs. For one thing, instead of pigs, there are three javelinas. Instead of a wolf, it is a coyote that is this tale’s villain. The formalized opening (“Once upon a time”) takes the reader to the southwest desert, where three little javelinas, two brothers and a sister, live. They are in a “…hot, dry land, the sky…almost always blue. Steep purple mountains [look] down on the desert, where the cactus forests grew.” Each javelina makes their own path to a home in this desert.

The first javelina brother makes his home out of tumbleweeds. The second brother makes his with saguaro ribs. Lastly, the sister makes her house out of adobe bricks. The coyote first sees the tumbleweed house and he is ecstatic at the idea of having the javelina as a meal because he “was tired of eating mice and rabbits.” In tradition to the original story, the coyote beckons the javelina to come out. When the javelina refuses, the coyote blows his house away. The javelina manages to escape, but the coyote is on his trail. When the javelina reunites with his brother, they both take refuge in his home of saguaro ribs. Unfortunately, the coyote arrives to blow that house away too. The brothers then race to their sister’s home. The coyote first tries to cajole the javelinas to be invited inside. The javelinas refuse. The coyote then tries to blow the house away, but because it is made of bricks, he is not successful. This does not deter the coyote. He decides to sneak inside the home by climbing on the tin roof and going through the chimney. When the javelina sister realizes this, she lights up the stove, hurting the coyote into running off. The story ends in wry humor where “The three little javelinas lived happily ever after in the adobe house. And if you ever hear Coyote’s voice, way out in the desert at night…well, you know what he’s remembering!”

Critical analysis: This version of the story follows many elements of the original, where the wolf (the coyote) is the bad guy, and the three little pigs (javelinas) are the good guys. The javelina sister is a strong female character as she is the one that builds the most durable house, rescuing her two brothers. She is also clever enough to realize that the coyote is trying to sneak inside, and she lights up the stove to stop him. The plot is simple with a lot of action, but it works to make its setting an important part of the story. The javelinas are all dressed in gloves, hats, scarves, and boots for the heat. They find the materials of their homes from the environment, with two of the javelinas meeting humans that represent that region, a Native American woman and a Latino.

According to the author, she “tried to handle all this geographical and cultural material with a light touch. The setting could really be almost any dry southwestern area where javelinas, coyotes, tumbleweeds, cacti, and adobe houses are found–which includes parts of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California, as well as northern Mexico.” Throughout the story, Lowell peppers in the names of the animals and plants that are specific to the region. The illustrator, Jim Harris has also done his own research. Even if the animal is not mentioned in the text, he will include creatures such as rattlesnakes and Gambel’s quails in the backdrop. The illustrations themselves show the beauty of the desert, washing everything in warm, usually earthy tones. There is a particularly beautiful depiction of the desert at night, where Harris emphasizes the lush deep purples of the night sky washing over everything. There is also much humor put into the art. When the first javelina makes his house of tumbleweed, he is seen creating a mailbox addressed as “#1 Tumbleweed Ave.” Inside the mailbox is a rather exasperated mouse. In fact, this mouse can be seen along many images, adding further humor, such as when the javelina siblings are crouching down, covering their ears, worrying that the adobe house will be blown over. If you study the illustration, you will notice that the mouse in his hole is imitating their position. All in all, this is an amusing, exciting story to teach children of different types of animals in a region.

Review Excerpt and Awards won:

Awards and Honors: Arizona Young Readers Award (1994); Grand Canyon Reader Award for Picture Book (1994)

Following excerpt is from Publishers Weekly, dated January 27, 1992:

“Lowell spices the story with elements of Native American, Mexican and Old West culture. Javelina No. 1 builds his house of tumbleweed, while his brother relies on saguaro ribs. Twice Coyote huffs and puffs and the lightweight dwellings fall, but the peccaries are saved by their resourceful sister, who has had the foresight to build her home of stout adobe bricks. This clever and flavorful change of scene puts a diverting spin on an old favorite. Harris’s lively, finely detailed illustrations, with the bristling, pink-nosed peccaries clad in cowboy outfits, amusingly contrast the villain’s vigorous wiles with the title characters’ cozy domesticity. Sprightly fun.”

Connections: This book will be a great way to teach young readers about the climate/geography of the Southwest and what animals and plants live there. This is also a great introduction to the types of homes people make to live out there. Another connection can be to teach young readers how to analyze stories. Have the young readers make a chart that shows the similarities and differences of this story and the original tale.

Edited: 2/24/2020

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