Tuesday, February 10, 2009

In A-rrears: Chicken Cheeks by Ian Michael Black

"This is a story with a beginning, a middle, and a whole lot of ends."

With this "wazoo warning," Ian Michael Black's Chicken Cheeks (Simon & Schuster, 2009) is off and running in his short and sweetly hilarious paean to wordplay on the posterior portion of a menagerie of critters.

Bear has a ladder, but he soon ascertains that it's not up to the job of reaching a honey hive at the top of a tree. Luckily, he's obviously, er, well-grounded in his Grimm Brothers, and soon entices a series of animals in building a Bremen-Town-type tower to the top of the tree. In a series of seriously funny riffs on the rear ends of the climbers, Black stacks the animals head to hindquarters, in a can't-top-this list of slang synonyms for the anatomical tokus -- moose caboose, gnu kazoo, turkey tushy, hound dog heiny, kangaroo keister, flamingo fanny, toucan can, penguin patootie and platypus gluteus maximus, to name only a few--until the pyramid finally reaches the yearned-for yummy at the top of the tree.

But BUMmer! The hive has its own well-armed rear guard--bumblebee bums--whose sitters pack stingers which topple the tower and brings the duffers down to the ground promptly. In a sly bit of author-illustrator collusion, we see a bunch of ants, who have been shown surreptitiously waiting in the background in each illustration, feasting on the hoped-for booty of this honey hunt.

Kevin Hawkes' super silly illustrations work well with Black's tongue-in-cheek text to make this picture book a fine giggle-fest for kids who are savvy enough to savor a bit of sophisticated word play. Third graders, whose appreciation for hindquarter humor and alliterative and punny playfulness is at its peak, will be rocked off their rumps by this one!

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