Friday, October 31, 2008

Advhenture: Louise, the Adventures of a Chicken by Kate DiCamillo and Harry Bliss

Newbery Medal and Honor Award winner Kate DiCamillo (for The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup and a Spool of Thread (Tale of Despereaux) and Because of Winn-Dixie ) takes advantage of the skills of her illustrator, Harry Bliss, whose depictions of poultry have always been Bliss-ful, to share three adventures of her feathered heroine. A chicken she may be, but chicken she is definitely not.

Louise, The Adventures of a Chicken begins with the intrepid Louise making tracks away from the chicken yard as her mistress is busy hanging out the wash. In Chapter I, Louise at Sea, Louise has scarcely sneaked aboard a sailing ship, the sea wind ruffling her feathers, when the ship is boarded by bloodthirsty (not to mention chicken-eating) pirates. Her captor votes for fricassee, but while the crew argues over whether to fry or stew poor LouLou, a sudden storm sinks the ship with all aboard. All but the buoyant Louise, that is, who pilots a broken spar to shore, where she happily hustles back to her safe coop and her cubby with Louise over the door.

A night in the nest gives Louise some rest but fails to staunch her zest for adventure. In Chapter II, Louise Up High, the circus comes to town and Louise follows the bright lights straight to the ringmaster, where she auditions for a role in one of the rings. The ringmaster is unimpressed with Louise's wing flapping, clucking, and strutting, but Mitzi the aerialist sees some talent there.

"But, mon cheri," she said, "look at how she moves. She is meant, of course, to be on the high wire."

Naturally, Louise is unflappable on the high wire, but one day, when the wire fails, she finds herself dropping straight toward the wide and waiting jaws of the circus lion. Doing her best imitation of a flying chicken, Louise flaps just out of his reach to hide under a clown's hat. Declining a job upgrade as the death-defying poulet propelled from a cannon, she hightails it back to her spectacularly lion-free hen house on the farm for a little chicken R and R.

But Louise's adventures are not done. In Chapter III, Louise Unbored, the hopeful hen travels to a far-east bazaar, where a fortune teller foretells a "dark stranger" in Louise's future. When the dark stranger appears and snatches her high in the air, Louise is sure she's found true adventure, but alas, what she has found is captivity in a wire cage with a bunch of other dumb clucks. Resourcefully, Louise studies the cage's lock and set to work picking it. Finally, at dusk the door swings open.

"We are free," said Louise to the other chickens. The news appeared to stun them. "Free," said Louise again. She hopped to the ground and gestured to them to follow.... Suddenly Louise felt a wave of longing for the hen house.

After a long westerly journey, Louise arrives back home.

"Oh, Louise, where have you been?" said her friend Monique, and Louise looked at her.

"I'll tell you" she said. And she did.

Bliss's illustrations flesh out DiCamillo's wry text with perfect attention to detail as we see Louise motoring up the Congo aboard the African Queen and holding forth for her audience of rapt pigs, cows, and poultry back home. There is plenty to discover on each page as the heroine hen lives her dreams of high adventure.



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