Friday, March 20, 2009

The Panic of '09: Chicken Little by Rebecca and Ed Emberley


EEP! Chicken Little may not be the brightest chicken in the coop, but he knows a leading indicator when he sees one. And when that acorn bonks him on the head, he makes a prediction:

"Oh, my goodness, oh, my gracious," he exclaimed. "The sky is falling! The sky is falling! Run for your lives!" He grabbed his umbrella and ran out into the world without much of a plan.

On his way to wherever he is running, Chicken Little meets up with the usual suspects--Henny Penny, Lucky Ducky, Loosey Goosey, and Turkey Lurkey, who panic when a downturn in the acorn crop finds its mark on their noggins, too. ACK! ONK! OOP!

No time to explain! Run for your lives!

But the world is a perilous place for poultry without a plan, and as the barnyard fowl scramble to park their assets in a safe haven, they meet up with the man with a plan--Foxy Loxy, who offers a shelter for the panicked poultry:

"Step into this warm, dark cave where the sky cannot fall on you!" Fox offers, opening his toothy jaws wide, and the easily fooled fowl rush inside. Once within Foxy Loxy, however, even these bird brains begin to see the downside of the inside:

"Pheeeeew!" squawked the hen. "It stinks in here."

"And the floor is squishy and wet!" quacked the duck.

"UH OH!" gobbled the turkey. "Oh, no!" honked the goose.

But with their feathers ruffled and their down dislodged, the barnyard birds soon trigger a reaction within Foxy Loxy. "AAHHH! AAHHH! AAHHH!" he struggles, stifling a sneeze. Then, at last, comes the fortunate (for the fowl) rebound.


And with that super sneeze, out pop the poultry and at last they have a plan--RUN AWAY! And the last thing we see are the backsides of Chicken Little, Henny Penny, Lucky Ducky, Loosey Goosey, and Turkey Lurkey, flocking back to their well regulated barnyard.

It's hard not to see this traditional tale as a parable of the present panic, but in truth it is a masterful and faithful reworking of the familiar folktale, made gloriously silly and gloriously vivid in Rebecca and Ed Emberley's stunning new version, Chicken Little (Roaring Brook Press, 2009). Caldecott winner Ed Emberley (for the classic Drummer Hoff), in consort with his daughter Rebecca, creates some of his most winning illustrations ever--highly stylized and yet totally true to the essence of the foolish fowl in this story. Emberley has always had a unique way with color and shape, and in this retelling, his line, media, and use of color come together masterfully. This highly visual version of the familiar folktale struts its stuff across the pages with an authority which makes it, of all the fine reworkings of this story out there, the just-right rendition for these times.

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