Hello again, everyone! Welcome to our third installment of Library Favorites. You can check out all of our blog entries, including Library Favorites, here.
Today, in celebration of Lattes With Lambs (May 14th!) I thought we could take a look at The Hog Island Sheep in State of the Ewe-nion by Andrew Barbour. This read sneaks in a little of D.C. politics, some law making basics, presidential history… and tons of sheep puns.
I can practically guarantee that the children in your life love puns, or they will! Children learn words via sounds and syllables; that’s why singing and talking to them from the time they’re born is so important. Once they’re old enough to start messing around creatively with those sounds, they’re ready to understand basic puns. From there, you’re well on your way to a kid with a sense of humor. Why not prime them with a story that also teaches a bit of history?
The book follows a group of Hog Island sheep living on the island with their sworn enemies, the pigs, who have never let the sheep forget just who the island is named for. When President Grover Cleveland visits Hog Island, the sheep soon discover, to their great delight, that the president is “against all pork.” Deciding to seize their chance to change Hog Island’s name, they take the train to D.C., just in time for the President’s State of the Ewe-nion address. The wisest of the sheep, Vernon (get it? If you don’t, George Washington also cultivated Hog Island sheep and his estate, Mount Vernon, is one of the only places other than the National Colonial Farm where you can still find the breed! This book has layers!) knows that all laws must start in bills, so the sheep unleash a flock of ducks holding the proposed name change in their bills. In the ensuing chaos, President Cleveland manages to snatch a copy and declares that the word “hog” already refers to both pigs and sheep, so no name change is necessary. The pigs and sheep agree to end their generations-long enmity, and everyone celebrates… until the ducks decide on a bit of payback.
You do need to enjoy some word play for this one. Just go with it! Behind the humor is some lesser-known presidential history and government basics. Yes, Cleveland was known for being honest and hating corruption. Yes, he did visit Hog Island to hunt, twice in fact!
I don’t want you to find yourself in a big conversation when you were expecting some light history and puns, so I need to mention a “joke” about our sheep protagonist, Hank, not being very smart because “he was dropped on his head as a baby.” It rubbed me the wrong way, and I’d be upset to find that phrase in a book I was reading to my child. It’s not a kind or accurate way for children to understand people in their lives who may have developmental delays or brains that just work differently from theirs. Personally, I’d skip that phrasing/idea altogether and say “Isn’t he silly? Just goes to show not every adult knows what they’re talking about, huh?” If you’re prepared, by all means, take the opportunity to talk about why jokes like this are inappropriate.
I definitely wouldn’t use this book for story time at the library (too long!), but if you’re planning on using it as part of a lesson on government, it could be fun in a K+ elementary classroom. Teachers can discuss how bills really do become laws, what a veto is, and what Cleveland actually meant when he said he hated pork. Outside of the classroom, this book is fun for families to read together; you can choose to go into the details, or just enjoy the silly story!
The Hog Island Sheep in State of the Ewe-nion isn’t widely available at libraries, but you can pick up a copy at the park’s Visitor’s Center or purchase a copy online. You can also have a virtual story time with the Accokeek Foundation! Let me know how you feel about the book! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Want to learn more about Hog Island Sheep? Come visit the park for Lattes with Lambs on May 14th to meet this year’s new Hog Island lambs (they are SO CUTE) and their parents and enjoy some fun activities for the whole family. See you soon!