Sunday, October 30, 2011

Here's to You, Mrs. Chicken

It all started in 2008 with this storytelling workshop I took through the Free Library. It was run by Michele Belluomini, a poet and master storyteller, and a terrific teacher. Our final assignment in the workshop was to choose a folktale, commit it to memory, practice it, and tell it to the group. One of the other women in the workshop, Audrey, worked at the same library branch as I did, and I thought we'd have more fun if we did it together. We got approval from Michele, and set out to find a folktale that would work well for two people. That's how I discovered Mrs. Chicken and the Hungry Crocodile, by Won-Ldy Paye and Margaret H. Lippert, and illustrated by Julie Paschkis. (Check out a 2008 interview with Paschkis on Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.) Audrey was the hungry crocodile, and I was Mrs. Chicken. We had incredible fun rehearsing and performing the story, and I've been carrying the character of Mrs. Chicken around with me ever since. I think that's part of the reason I'm so drawn to chicken books: they give me an opportunity to bring out my inner chicken.

Mrs. Chicken and the Hungry Crocodile is a very fine book, independent of its tricky chicken protagonist. It is written, illustrated, and designed beautifully, and I am freshly dazzled every time I turn its pages. In this retelling of a Liberian folktale, Mrs. Chicken's narcissism leads her to stray from the safety of her bathing puddle to the superior reflecting surface of the river, where the hungry crocodile lies in wait. Crocodile snaps chicken up and drags her home to eat her up. But Mrs. Chicken quickly devises a plan to trick Crocodile (no stranger to narcissism herself) into believing they are sisters and that eating her would therefore be horribly wrong. She wins her freedom, learns her lesson, and goes on to bathe in puddles with her chicks, happily ever after. This is a lively, funny, vibrant rendition of this traditional tale, short enough to share with very young children, but engaging enough (on so many levels) for story lovers of all ages.  

More Than Just Chickens

As a children's librarian, and picturebook fanatic, I have come to realize that a) I have a special affinity for books about chickens, b) I'm not alone in this affinity, and, relatedly, c) there are a LOT of books about chickens. That said, this blog is not exclusively focused on the chicken lit genre. I'm starting Chicken Lit as a place where I can share some of my favorite children's books, chicken-themed and otherwise, host conversations with their authors and illustrators, and create a gallery of videos of young children reading their favorite books aloud with their grown-ups. Please join the conversation, and share your own beloved picturebooks, especially the ones starring chickens!