Our senses and sensibilities really do make the days of our lives more enjoyable while still being key to our basic survival. At times they seem to go above and beyond the real truth when it comes to alerting us to danger. For a moment imagine you are groping about in a basement suddenly gone dark when the power is lost. Something brushes against the bare skin of your arm. You yelp believing it to be a spider of gigantic proportions, only to discover when the lights come back on it was only a piece of fuzz.
The combination of our hearing, seeing, tasting, touching, smelling and mental perceptions can take us down the path leading to the imaginary realm. Brave Chicken Little (Viking, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA), August 7, 2014) retold and illustrated by Robert Byrd takes the familiar broadening and deepening the story line. This story, his vision of a classic, rekindles our love of folklore and its capacity to entertain and expand our thinking.
One fine day Mrs. Chicken Licken decided to bake a cake.
But there was nothing to make it with, so she sent Chicken Little off to the market to buy honey and flour and milk.
"Do not dillydally," she said. "Come straight home."
As life would have it, dillydallying is going to be the least of Chicken Little's worries. An acorn falls from a tree landing squarely on his head. That had to hurt. The little guy harboring this new pain is certain the sky is falling. He hurries down the road to report this news to the king.
Rushing with all due haste he first meets Henny Penny who willingly agrees to go with him. In short order Ducky Lucky and Turkey Lurkey are coming along to offer additional assistance. When the sky is falling the ruler of the land needs to know.
Piggy Wiggy, Rabbit Babbit and Natty Ratty, fellow friends, are sure the greater number carrying this message will give it more meaning. The total has now swelled to seven. As they wind their way toward the palace two moles, Roly and Poly Moley, and one frog, Froggy Woggy, join their ranks.
Meeting a too cheerful and hungry Foxy Loxy, offering help and an invitation to dine at his home, the parade is lead in a different direction. Can you picture the surprise on all their faces (and a shiver of fear) as they are introduced to Mrs. Foxy Loxy and seven little foxes eagerly waiting their next meal? Before they can even predict what will happen next, they are locked in a dimly lit basement.
One small window high above them next to the ceiling is their only hope. Junk, apples and foolishness multiplied boost bravery. As to the falling sky, not another word was ever heard about it.
A cumulative tale with repeating refrains enriches the storytelling experience. When you add in the two word rhyming names of the nineteen animal characters you will have your listeners chanting along with you over and over again as the narrative continues. Robert Byrd's use of dialogue with narration keeps the action moving along seamlessly; the tension increasing until the sleepy resolution. Here is another sample passage.
So down the road ran Chicken Little, Henny Penny, Ducky Lucky, Turkey Lurkey, Piggy Wiggy, Rabbit Babbit, Natty Ratty, Froggy Woggy, and Roly and Poly Moley.
And whom should they meet but---Foxy Loxy.
"Hello, hello," he sang out. "Good day and cheers! Where are you off to, my scrumptious little dears?"
"The sky is falling," said Chicken Little. "And we are going to tell the king."
The first thing you notice when you open the matching dust jacket and book case of Brave Chicken Little is the exquisite detail on the illustration spanning across the back to the front. Every bit of flora and fauna native to this area is shown; butterflies, bees, caterpillars, dragonflies, flowers, ferns and other bugs. On the left the six remaining friends not on the front are following the twists and turns of a path through the woods. Watching from behind a tree with a crafty grin on his face is Foxy Loxy.
A pattern of a tiny single acorn, gold and brown, is placed on a teal background for the opening and closing endpapers. The story opens with an illustration on the title page; the window of Chicken Little's home is featured as his mother speaks to him. Robert Byrd's color palette and his delicate fine lines have a softness, old-style feel, to them. Having his characters clothed in apparel reminiscent of the old English countryside contributes to the classic quality of this tale.
Byrd chooses to alter his picture sizes, extending some edge to edge on two pages or a single page. At times his images will be loosely framed or a rectangle framed in pristine white. Light and shadow are skillfully integrated into each illustration. The quality of paper, a matte-finish, increases the timeless aspect of his work on this story.
One of my many favorite illustrations is of Chicken Little leading six of his friends down the road lined with stone-bordered fields. Carrots, cabbages and heads of lettuce are laid out in rows, small white butterflies, caterpillars and worms move in and above the dirt. Hills and trees extend into the distance, a pale blue sky filled with puffy clouds. On the right a frog and two moles greet the group hurriedly making their way to the king.
I am confident every book shelf, classroom, library, professional and personal, will want a copy of Brave Chicken Little retold and illustrated by Robert Byrd. Foxes, friends, a king, a cake and courage make this a new classic. I think it's time to give new meaning to the words Chicken Little.
For further information about Robert Byrd and his books please follow the link attached to his name. This link takes you to a portion of his site highlighting more pages from the book as a slide show.