cover image The Pig Who Ran a Red Light

The Pig Who Ran a Red Light

Paul Brett Johnson. Orchard Books (NY), $15.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-531-30136-4

This be-yourself tall tale shows how a barnyard animal resolves his identity crisis. Impressionistic illustrations, composed of multicolored squiggles and daubs of watercolor, set the scene at a sun-dappled farmhouse with leafy summertime trees and purple hills in the distance. Here lives George the pig, a friend of Gertrude the flying cow, star of Johnson's The Cow Who Wouldn't Come Down. Gertrude effortlessly soars through the air, plays the piano and drives a tractor. George's attempts to do likewise meet with less success, as the title indicates. Grandmotherly Miss Rosemary, the farm's spry, white-haired overseer, tries to discourage George (""Just because Gertrude is a silly nincompoop, doesn't mean you have to be one too"") and finally has a ""long talk"" with the gambolling cow. The next day, Gertrude snorts and wallows in the mud, showing George how much fun it is to be a pig. Johnson, who styles the characters as a close-knit family, restores George's piggishness. Yet the author doesn't question Gertrude's mixed message--being bovine isn't good enough for her. The cow prodigy does as she wishes, which will likely strike a chord of recognition for those who live in the shadow of accomplished older siblings. Nevertheless, Johnson tries to suggest that the pig has enviable qualities, too, and humorously concludes the book with a goose aping George by practicing her ""oink, oink."" Ages 4-7. (Mar.)