When you're growing up sometimes you desire something so much it consumes your every waking moment. In conversations with your parents they try to explain the difference between wanting and needing a particular thing. Their reasoning may be logical and practical but it simply does not match your thinking. Regardless of your attempts to persuade them to understand your viewpoint, they remain steadfast in their answers.
Children may not always have much control over their lives but certain situations call for creativity. My Dog's a Chicken (Schwartz & Wade Books, February 9, 2016) written by Susan McElroy Montanari with illustrations by Anne Wilsdorf gives us a day in the life of a quick-witted little gal. She surveys her circumstances and hatches a plan.
Lula Mae wanted a puppy, but Mama said, "Dog's just another mouth to feed. These are hard times, Lula Mae. You've got to make do."
Standing in the yard on her farm, Lula Mae is surrounded by chickens, lots and lots of chickens. She promptly decides a chicken might make a pretty good dog. It's got to be a proper chicken, though. It must exhibit certain personality traits.
One chicken stands out among all the others and Lula Mae grabs it. Understandable the hen is not happy but Lula Mae declares to her Papa and Mama this chicken is her dog. She names it Pookie.
With her father and mother watching Lula Mae proceeds to point out all the fine abilities of her new "canine companion." She takes the bow from her hair placing it on the chicken and voila, she has a show dog. After a close encounter with a pesky cousin and a slithering reptile when she, Baby Berry and Pookie are reading under a tree, she announces Pookie is a guard dog.
Regardless of the stellar qualities of her "dog" Mama is steadfast in her resolve to not have Pookie in her house. Unexpectedly two members of the farm family cause a frightful commotion. Some changes are meant to be, others are not.
You have to admit the idea of a chicken being a dog is fertile ground for hilarity. Susan McElroy Montanari pens a splendid blend of easy, conversational narrative and homey dialogue. Lula Mae's rationale which rises to the top in each situation will generate loads of laughter. A comedic cadence is supplied when Baby Berry echoes portions of Mama's words. In fact he utters the final sentences in this story. Here is another sample passage.
There stood Cousin Tater holding a garter snake. Lula Mae shrieked,
"You were going to throw that snake on me!"
Tater looked down at the snake. "No, I wasn't," he said.
"Just so you know, I got me a dog now," Lula Mae said.
"That old stew chicken?" Tater asked. ...
The happy-as-a-lark look on Baby Berry's face and Lula Mae's expression of pure contentment on the front of the matching dust jacket and book case contrast with the get-me-out-here stare in Pookie's eyes. The laughter begins right here. The full color palette with splashes of bright red direct our attention to the most active characters, Lula Mae and Pookie. On the back, to the left, is an interior scene with text when Lula Mae is zeroing in on her choice for a chicken to be her dog. Pookie's free spirit lands her the job.
The opening and closing endpapers are full of chickens (There must be one hundred.) in all kinds of color combinations and body positions. To begin most of them seem to be running toward a double circle which is forming. Pookie is running off to the right. At the conclusion there are divided clusters of chickens with dotted lines zigging and zagging among them, signifying the crazy path taken by Pookie.
Rendered in watercolor and China ink Anne Wilsdorf's artwork usually spans two pages. To enhance the pacing she places several smaller visuals together on several pages or single pages between the double pages. White space is used to excellent effect defining characters and their actions.
The wide eyes and longish, up-turned noses on her people endear us to them. The expressions on her chickens are sure to produce grins galore. In looking at each image readers will notice her fine lines and abundant details. Wilsdorf also includes hints of what is to come if readers look closely at her illustrations. The final picture without text is a second ending.
One of my favorite illustrations is of Lula Mae sitting against a tree reading. Pookie is under one arm and Baby Berry is under her other arm. They are all looking at the book. In the upper left-hand corner a blue butterfly flutters. Coming toward them from the left is another chicken. Cousin Tater is seen peeking around the tree on the right. Readers don't know it yet but this image signals a shift in the story.
My Dog's a Chicken written by Susan McElroy Montanari with illustrations by Anne Wilsdorf is read aloud gold. Readers and listeners will admire Lula Mae's ingenuity as they chuckle at her perceptions. I can guarantee you will be asked to read this title over and over again. This is a winning debut for Montanari.
To learn more about Susan McElroy Montanari and Anne Wilsdorf please follow the links attached to their names. An older post but still valuable about Anne Wilsdorf can be found at Emu's Debuts, "A book...is a whole world.": An Interview with Anne Wilsdorf. You can view some interior images by following this link to the publisher's website.