Growth and Discovery in the Unusual Home of the Pigman

Paul Zindel. The Pigman. New York: Harper Trophy, 1968.


John and Lorraine are two high school sophomores, writing an account of their strange, recent past with a man they refer to as the Pigman. They cryptically allude to a traumatic incident, stating, “We had trespassed —been where we didn’t belong, and we were being punished for it. Mr. Pignati paid with his life. But when he died something in us had died as well” (Zindel 166). The story unfolds around the death of the enigmatic Mr. Pignati, as John and Lorraine record the events of their past few months in search of absolution.

John begins the novel by calling himself "the Bathroom Bomber" while Lorraine associates herself with "Sigmund Freud” (Zindel 1). Their manner of meeting Mr. Pignati—or the Pigman as the call him—is in itself very childish. It all begins with a prank phone game where John and Lorraine try to keep a random stranger on the phone for as long as possible (Zindel 17). The conversation, which started as a joke, steadily develops into a deep friendship between two kids and a lonely old man who’s only other friend is Bobo, Mr. Pignati’s favorite baboon at the local Baron Park Zoo (Zindel 56).

Yet the traumatic roots of John and Lorraine’s account, where childhood and adulthood collide, is made clear during the story’s climax, during which John and Lorraine decide to throw a party while the Pigman is at the hospital after having a heart attack . When Mr. Pignati comes home early, it is high time for these two kids to grow up and take responsibility for their actions. Their reluctance to do so sends a crashing wave of guilt over the two teenagers that is only rectified through the readers’ eyes: is the retelling of the Pigman’s legacy enough to rectify the pair’s past transgressions?

Zindel's novel is nothing short of a coming of age story. If any rich discussion is to be taken from The Pigman, it's the growth and development of John and Lorraine.

Recommendations for Teachers
  • Correspondence:
    • Have the students choose to write a letter to Lorraine, John, Mr. Pignati, or Lorraine/Johns parents in response to the book. The letters can be read outloud in small groups to stimulate discussion and thoughts on the book.
  • Writing Prompts:
    • There are many 'dilemas' that come up throughout the book. Choose one chapter or theme and write about a similiar sitution in your life and relate it to what you read.
    • Recreate an alternate ending. Do you think this would change the overall message of the book?
  • Dramatizing
    • Choose a scene or chapter of the book and have the students collaborate in groups to decide how they will act it out in front of the class.
  • Predicting.
    • After each set of assigned chapters or sections have the students write questions/predictions and tape them to a wall in the classroom. Once the students find out their answers they can tape them to the board as well and create new predictions/questions for the next assigned section.
  • Themes and Motifs
    • There are many themes throughout the novel, such as, death, friendship, and coming of age. Discuss how each theme or one in particular was important to your undestanding and state the signifcance. For example, how was Mr. Pignatis life and death significant to Lorraine and John? OR Discuss the implications of John and Lorraine's friendship with Mr. Pignati.
  • Symbolism
    • Choose a significant moment where symbolism is used and describe what it means to you. Ex) The Pig Collection, The 3 Monkeys, or Bobo in terms of Mr. Pignati.
  • Compare/Contrast
    • Discuss similarities and differences among John and Loraine in small groups. Have the explain the positives and negatives that occur due qualities they listed.
  • Design
    • Have the students draw a scene from the book either at Mr. Pignati's house, the department store, or the zoo.
    • Create Mr. Pignati's toombstone and write a description of it underneath.

Paul Zindel

Paul Zindel

Besides having a career as a teacher and playwright, Paul Zindel also had a successful career writing novels for young adults. It was one of his early plays,The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, which caught the attention of a book editor that eventually persuaded him to write young adult literature. Growing up in a single-parent home and forced to move frequently is a reoccurring theme in his novels that is not only genuine but also relatable for the Y.A. audience. Perhaps using his own childhood experiences is one reason as to why he is such a prolific author. In 2002, Paul was honored by the Young Adult Library Services Association with the Margaret A. Edwards Award for his lifetime contribution in writing for young adults along with many other awards and accomplishments. Unfortunately, Paul Zindel lost his battle with cancer in 2003, but his memory lives on through numerous accolades including over 50 books, plays, screenplays.

"I finally learned that if everyone likes you, you are probably a really dumb, boring loser." -- Paul Zindel
Picture taken from:

Awards for The Pigman:
Children’s Book of the Year, Child Study Association of America, 1968
New York Times Outstanding book of the year, 1968
Boston Globe-Horn Book Award Honor Book, 1969
Maxi Award, Media & Methods, 1973
ALA Notable Children’s Book, 1940-1970
ALA Best Book for Young Adults, 1966-1988


Multimedia (Video or Audio)

Being that Zindel's favored medium is the theatre, it would be great to expose students to his Pulitzer Prize winning
Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds. Below is the first part of his play. It is a little dated, and it might be best (if you choose to use it) to show the first part in order to save the students from slight boredom. However, this clip could be a great gateway into different discussions. One could discuss the anxieties of childhood, the gap between adults and children, or even misunderstanding children (or loneliness).

Additional Resources:

Paul Zindel: Official Page Visit Here for photos, advice for teachers, his works, his biography, and a message board!
Study Guides from Official Site Zindel also has numerous study guide links off of his official site.
Teaching The Pigman Initially set up for homeschool teaching, but can definitely be used in the classroom.
Novel Guide Including: Introduction, About the Author, Overview, Setting, Themes and Characters, Literary Qualities, Social Sensitivity, & Topics for Discussion.
The Pigman Play Paul Zindel is better known (and better knows himself) as a playwrite. This is an excerpt from F. Andrew Leslie's adaptation of The Pigman as a theatrical performance.
The Pigman on Google Books A great resource if you want to peek into The Pigman or one of Zindel's other books.
Journey to Meet the PigmanAnother Pigman novel by Zindel if students are interested after completing this book.
The Pigman and Me Another Pigman novel by Zindel if students are interested after completing this book.
Harper Collins Publishers: Information from the publisher on Paul Zindel and other 'extras'
Lesson plans for The Pigman