What if your only chance of survival was a pig’s heart?
‘Pig Heart Boy’ written by Malorie Blackman is a story about a boy who needs a heart transplant, however there are not enough human organs available. Cameron is 13 and all he wants is a normal life but he has a serious heart problem and unless he gets a heart transplant soon, he will die. But there are no human donors, so when Dr Bryce approaches Cameron’s family with the possibility of a heart can he really turn down the chance to live? However, they still haven’t found a human donor heart so instead it will be from a pig. This is of course a risky operation and one never done before. It’s a hard decision for Cameron to make too – the chance to live, or to definitely die. Cameron is offered the chance to have a highly experimental and controversial operation which might save his life. However, replacing his heart with one from a pig brings not only medical risk, it also places Cameron at the centre of controversy. Cameron is sworn to secrecy about the operation but he eventually tells his best friend, Marlon. This proves to be a big mistake as soon the story of the operation appears all over the front page of the newspaper and Cameron begins to feel betrayed. The father of his best friend tells a newspaper about the operation and Cameron has the horror of living with newspaper journalists calling him Pig Heart Boy. Cameron’s mum is also not the only one against Cameron having a pig’s heart, there’s the RSPCA and other groups who believe that what they are doing to this pig is wrong. For Cameron, hearing his parents arguing over the operation becomes the norm and while his mum is against the operation, his dad is for it. Cameron really does become ‘piggy in the middle’ but it is only his Gran who knows how he really feels. The relationship between Gran and Cameron is touching and they are clearly very close.
This great book explores how Cameron faces up to the challenges of the operation itself, and it also explores some of the ethical dilemmas which the operation raises for Cameron, his family and the people around them. This book is full of suspense, and cliff hangers and it is about friendship, loyalty and life changing decisions. It really is a powerful and thought provoking story from the award winning Malorie Blackman. It makes you think what would you do in that position and without doubt it will get your class thinking and asking lots of questions. Whilst reading this book, the moral question that bothers Cameron throughout the book hangs in your mind. Is it right to kill an animal for a human?
My top Guided Reading Group in Year 6 has just finished reading this thought provoking book and they thoroughly enjoyed it. It really is a moving story that really makes you stop and think and you really do join Cameron in his fight for survival. I would definitely recommend using this book in Literacy too for Year 5 or 6 as it really does provide many writing opportunities. At the end of reading the book we discussed the following questions: Is the end of the book satisfying? Is there anything else that we still want to know? What would you ask Cameron, if you could talk to him? The children could definitely write a short sequel to the story of what happens next?
This story provides the children with many opportunities to write in different genres, including diary entries (writing from a particular character’s perspective); presenting argument/debate (animal rights); letter writing and writing a newspaper article/report.
The children could write a diary entry in the role of Cameron after he has heard his parents arguing about whether or not he should have a pig’s heart transplanted into him, as there are not enough human donors. Or they could write a diary entry written through the eyes of Cameron’s Mum or Dad explaining how they feel about the operation.
The children could also hold a news conference and ask Cameron, his parents, his friend Marlon and the doctor/surgeon some questions about the operation and the fact that they used a pig’s heart. (You could have teachers/LSAs/SDs in role as particular characters e. g Doctor Bryce, Cameron, Marlon, Mum and Dad whilst the children ask the questions.)
Watch the videos below! The first one is Malorie Blackman reading the first chapter and the second is a trailer to promote the book.