Author’s first children’s book revives a rural Maine tradition

Posted Sept. 28, 2011, at 12:52 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 28, 2011, at 5:04 p.m.
Jessica Kinney
Courtesy photo
Jessica Kinney
Sarah S. Brannen
Courtesy photo
Sarah S. Brannen

THE PIG SCRAMBLE written by Jessica Kinney and illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen, October 2011, Islandport Press, $17.95, hardcover picture book.

Growing up on his family’s farm in Maine, Clarence appears to have a hard time with even the most simple barnyard tasks. On the other hand, his older and much bigger brothers, Robby and Ricky, seem built for all the important chores. When Clarence is presented with an opportunity to prove his worth at the county fair, he turns to his seemingly magical Uncle Leon, who knows a thing or two about how to win a pig scramble.

“The Pig Scramble,” a coming-of-age story set in rural Maine, is based on a true story passed along to first-time author Jessica Kinney of Topsham. The hardcover picture book is due out Oct. 1 from award-winning publisher Islandport Press. That day, Kinney will read and sign books 10 a.m.-12 p.m. at the Frontier Cafe in Brunswick.

With her husband’s blessing, Kinney stole a story from his childhood growing up on a dairy farm in Dover-Foxcroft, a memory he related to her in detail about 10 years ago.

“He told me a story of him winning a pig at a pig scramble, and I just thought, at the time, the way he described it, it would make a really good children’s book,” said Kinney, who usually ruminates on a story for a long time before putting pen to paper.

The resulting story doesn’t mirror the memory, but she does carry over crucial details, such Uncle Leon telling Clarence to rub his hands in the dirt before the scramble to get a better grip on the pig. And, like Clarence, her husband was the youngest son in his family. But Kinney widened the age gap to emphasize how small and inadequate the boy felt in comparison to his two older brothers.

“I like people taking different things from it,” said Kinney, who has heard feedback about all different aspects of the story, from the agricultural setting to Uncle Leon’s instruction to, “Let the pig come to you.”

Kinney, originally from Milo, is the mother of six children ranging in age from 2½ months to 9 years. A Bowdoin College graduate and former middle and high school English teacher, she has always wanted to write for children.

“It’s kind of loud and crazy at our house, but that’s OK,” said Kinney. “It’s nice; the first time I read the book, I read it to our older two boys, and they liked it. And reading for the first time to our younger kids, that was really special.”

Since childhood, Kinney has visited libraries to pore over books. In elementary school, she remembers reading “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeline L’Engle over and over again, as well as “Gods, Demigods & Demons: An Encyclopedia of Greek Mythology” by Bernard Evslin.

“I loved being in a library [as a girl] and just feeling like everything was there, whether or not that was the case,” said Kinney. “It was a small library in Milo, Maine, but to me, it was just a world of possibilities.”

It was this love of reading that prepared her to be a writer.

The book’s illustrator, Sarah S. Brannen, is author and illustrator of “Uncle Bobby’s Wedding” and illustrator of “Digging for Troy: From Homer to Hisarlik,” “Mathias Franey,” “Powder Monkey” and “The ABC Book of American Homes.” She has also illustrated for several children’s magazines and is the founding member of the children’s writing and illustrating website yellapalooza.com.

Kinney applauds Brannen’s illustrations and how well she managed to capture the country scenes and exchanges between the young boy and his favorite uncle. While Kinney gave some input on the style of illustration, her main concern was the look of Uncle Leon, who was based after the real Leon Kinney, her husband’s uncle.

“He was just a really unique individual and his face fit his interesting character,” said Kinney, who sent Brennan photos of Leon Kinney and his shop to help her in depicting him.

“When he needed to mow his entire air strip — he flew small planes and cleared a field to use for a runway — he hired the kids to remove the rocks from the field and attached eight running push lawnmowers to a board, which he attached to a tractor, which pulled all the mowers and sped up the process significantly,” she said about Leon Kinney.

Leon flies a plane in the book as well, and Clarence watches him from the fields.

Though Leon Kinney has passed away, his wife, Rebecca, has had the opportunity to read the book, said Kinney, who has already begun writing a second book about Clarence and Uncle Leon.

“I like the idea of writing about an agrarian existence because I feel like we’ve moved so far away from that,” said Kinney. “We’re starting to move back to asking where food comes from and understanding the importance of farms, and I’d like to write more about that. I think it’s something kids would be very interested in and may not have a lot of experience in.”

Kinney says that its exciting and surreal that “The Pig Scramble” is now going to be on the shelves of the children’s section she once pored over to find the perfect book to bring home.

“It’s a great feeling,” she said. “I don’t want to ever forget how special a feeling this is.”

For information or to purchase “The Pig Scramble,” visit islandportpress.com.

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