A Day No Pigs Would Die is Robert Newton Peck’s semi-autobiographical tale of a boy's struggle with adolescence and the responsibility of manhood. The details of Peck's boyhood coincide closely with those of the character bearing his name in A Day No Pigs Would Die. Peck was born on February 17, 1928, the youngest of seven children, in rural Vermont. Peck's parents, Haven Peck, and Lucile Dornburgh Peck, were farmers and members of the Shaker church. They were illiterate, but they taught Peck the Shaker Way, emphasizing the value of hard work, and the value of education.
Peck was a good student, and he based many of his children's novels on his experiences in grammar school. In second through sixth grade Peck was taught by the colorful Miss Kelly, a main character in his Soup series. "She believed in scholarship, manners, and soap. But more, she believed in me. In all of us, telling us that in America you don't have to be what you're born," he relates regarding Miss Kelly in Something About the Author. It was a lesson that he clearly took to heart. Although his education was interrupted by World War II, upon returning home, Peck's enrolled in Rollins College and graduated in 1953. He then entered Cornell Law School but never finished his course of study there.
After school, Peck worked in several different facilities before he started writing. At one point he even followed in the footsteps of his father and took a job slaughtering pigs. In 1958 he married Dorothy Anne Houston, by whom he would later have a son, Christopher, and a daughter, Anne. On a historical note, the best man at the wedding and godfather to the children was one of Peck's best friends, the late Fred Rogers, whose Mr. Roger's Neighborhood many children grew up with on PBS-TV.
A Day No Pigs Would Die was Peck's first novel. It was published in 1972 when he was already forty-four years old. The book was a success, and Peck began writing prolifically. In 1974 he released what is probably his most popular book, Soup, a story based on the adventures on one of his grammar school friends. The book became a series to which there are currently fourteen installments. A sequel to A Day No Pigs Would Die,A Part of the Sky was also published in 1994. To date, Robert Newton Peck is credited with authorship of fifty-three fiction books, five nonfiction books, more than one hundred poems, thirty-five songs, and three television specials.
In 1993, Robert Peck was diagnosed with oral cancer. After a two year battle and several sessions of radiation treatment, he was victorious, but his inspiration did not recover until 1998 when he published Nine Man Tree.. The book was prompted by an ordeal in which he shot a four hundred and eighty pound wild boar that had been on a rampage in a nearby Florida Everglades community. Since then he has resumed writing regularly, notably with Cowboy Ghost (1999) and Extra Innings (2001).
Robert Newton Peck's writing was very strongly influenced by the culture and community in which he grew up, and most is at least partially autobiographical. As with A Day No Pigs Would Die, many of his books follow the lives of boys growing up on farms. The Shaker religion also plays a large part in the chemistry of Robert Peck's writing. Though his parents were obviously not Shakers in the strictest sense (Shakers are forbidden from having intercourse, and therefore do not reproduce), they were followers of the Shaker Way. And the mood of many Shaker tenets permeates through A Day No Pigs Would Die.
The novel is set on a Vermont farm in the mid to late 1930s, mirroring Peck's own childhood. The setting of A Day No Pigs Would Die, is confined to the Peck farm and their neighbor's farm, with the exception of one trip to Rutland. Very little of the outside world seeps in to the book, which establishes a very isolated feel. There is no reference to the Great Depression, nor is its occurrence felt in any way. The only real external references that do appear are ones referencing Abner Doubleday, Civil War general and creator of baseball; Ethan Allen, the revolutionary war hero; Calvin Coolidge, the American President; and Robert Rodgers, an Indian hunter, and local Vermont hero, for whom Robert was named.
A Day No Pigs Would Die is considered Robert Newton Peck's best work. The connection that readers find in the simple language of Robert as he wanders through adolescence and the power of the emotional moments in the book have preserved the book as a classic piece of American storytelling.
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