I first fell in love with the Mellops last Christmas, with their festive adventure Christmas Eve at the Mellops. Although I knew and adored Tomi Ungerer’s work well, I had never heard of this adorable little piglet family.
It was with much happiness, then, that I recently threw myself into two more adventures – The Mellops Go Diving for Treasure and The Mellops Strike Oil. I particularly love the subject matter for Ungerer uses for his characters . . . the chances of a family of pigs deep sea diving and striking oil are probably pretty slim in real life – so why not send them to such heights through the pages of a book. These kind of imaginative settings truly enchant children (and Ungerer-obsessed adults, too).
Featuring the pricelessly retro, monochromatic work the series is known for, Diving for Treasure is set under a sea of aqua pages, and sees the Mellop brothers searching for a sunken ship from 1765. Alas, the ship is occupied by a rather shirty octopus, but thanks to a beautiful merpig, bedazzled with pearls and holding a harp, the octopus is charmed away.
Tragedy strikes, however, when the pigs notice their own boat over an undersea hill, laying at the bottom of the ocean! How on earth would they ever get home? Of course, being the enterprising and very clever piglets they are, the brothers soon come up with a plan that leads them to a desert island – and an unexpected haul.
In The Mellops Strike Oil, our porcine brothers bike ride with their dad through cantaloupe-coloured pages to a lovely picnic spot, where Mr Mellops samples water from a local brook and discovers it tastes like oil. Excited about the possibility of finding this elusive elixir, the family sets about creating their very own derrick – or wooden pumping tower – that may just help them reach oil . . . or near disaster.
I love how, during their drilling escapades, Ungerer takes his characters on little ‘asides’. The boys set up a tent. Isidor chases butterflies. Mrs Mellops comes along to cook on the campfire for her boys. I also love how, despite the trials of pumping oil and the fact that things hardly go as expected, the Mellops are a family of ‘try-ers’. They give things a go. They show initiative and creativity and drive.
These sweet books are a hoot for modern kids because they rely on a tried and tested traditional format that may not pack powerful punches and surprises but works so beautifully with its subtly and charm. Gorgeous.