Hogwash, by Arthur Geisert, reviewed by Susan Fry.

When a group of pig children in Arthur Geisert’s Hogwash set off in the morning, they don’t go on an ordinary playdate. Instead, they embark on a messy, muddy, downright dangerous adventure we’d never let our own children experience. They tromp through a bizarre world filled with industrial machinery, water, and mud. It will leave kids giggling and grownups wondering, “How did anyone ever think of THAT?”

The wordless plot of Hogwash is simple – the pig children get dirty and then clean again. But Geisert fills each page with enough elaborate and unexpected images to keep kids busy examining each detail.

First, the little pigs wallow in mud – mud on an epic scale. The lead piglet, a bubbly girl in a white dress and blue scarf, turns on a hand pump to create a vast puddle. Dozens of piglets swim, make “mud angels” on the mud beaches, and bask buried blissfully up to their necks in mud.

Then, just when you think they’re as dirty as pig-ly possible, they stroll over to a parent’s nightmare – a rusting, dilapidated paint factory. Before you cringe, watch your own children’s reactions as the pigs tip over giant vats of paint and splash around in the colors. My boys squeal with glee at the perilous things the pigs get to do, such as perching on the very top of rickety wooden walls.

When the pig parents arrive, they aren’t angry with their mud-and-paint splattered offspring. In fact, they know just how to deal with the mess – with an enormous, Rube-Goldberg-esque machine that cleans and dries each little pig. There’s a pan of soapy water the size of a swimming pool, a colossal showerhead, and a walkway with overhead dryers and a giant bellows. There are gears, waterwheels, cranes and pipes galore. Even non-mechanically minded kids will have their fingers all over the pages trying to figure out how the machine works.

Geisert’s illustrations can feel a little dark, even grotesque. The rough pen-and-ink sketches are in murky colors, with black cross-hatchings reminiscent of woodcuts. But the expressions of glee on the little pigs’ faces throughout their journey lighten the mood.

My kids try to make their own hogwash machines now in the shower. If they turn into inventors, I’ll know whom to thank.

Susan Fry is a writer and mother in the San Francisco Bay Area. She’s written for Stanford Magazine, salon, the San Jose Mercury News, and many other publications. You will find links to all of her children’s book reviews on our Toys & Books page.

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