Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Thursday, May 21, 2015

No Help Wanted...

Ever since I was first introduced to The Little Red Hen in The Tall Book of Nursery Tales (Harper And Brothers, 1944) with pictures by Feodor Rojankovsky (1956 Caldecott Medal winner for Frog Went A-Courtin'), I've been a collector of different interpretations and variations.  For more traditional tales I've enjoyed The Little Red Hen by Jerry Pinkney and The Little Red Hen: An Old Fable by Heather Forest, illustrations by Susan Gaber.  For stretching the story The Little Red Hen (Makes A Pizza) by Philomen Sturges, illustrations by Amy Walrod, The Red Hen by Rebecca Emberley and Ed Emberley, Cook-A-Doodle-Doo! and The Little Red Pen by sisters Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel have provided plenty of fun and puns.

Getting right to the heart of what is family, Little Red Henry (Candlewick Press, April 28, 2015) written by Linda Urban with illustrations by Madeline Valentine addresses an alternate view of the familiar.  As a first child or the youngest child can verify, doting parents or older siblings can be overwhelming in their attentions.  Sometimes you have to take a stand for the sake of your own sanity.

Ever since time began,
Mama and Papa and Mem and Sven had loved and cuddled and smooched and squeezed their little redheaded Henry.  

Henry didn't have to do a thing for himself.  His frustration level was at an all-time high.  He was getting to be a big boy.  He was no longer a baby.  He wanted to do things for himself like eating his own breakfast.  

After his morning meal the entire crew rushed to the bathroom to help him brush his teeth.  I guess you know Henry was not going to allow that any longer.  He politely declined all their requests.

Things were starting to look up for Henry.  The next thing on his agenda was to play with his next-door-neighbor friend.  Of course, all his attire was stacked and waiting for him.  He picked out a totally new outfit.  Without waiting for any member of his family to confirm plans for a play date, Henry knocked on Gibson's front door.  Those two boys had the best time.

That evening during dinner, Henry didn't spill a single drop of milk when he poured it himself.  His food was consumed completely and perfectly.  His family was definitely distraught.  If they couldn't do things for Henry, what were they supposed to do?

Big boy, not-a-baby Henry asked them a question.  Their responses altered the evening's events to everyone's joy.  In fact Henry discovered it was necessary to yell out another question.  Their answers were what everyone needed. 

The cadence found in the original tale is cleverly re-shaped by wordsmith Linda Urban.  There is still a goal to be reached.  The shift comes when Henry, unlike the hen, does not seek assistance.  It is repeatedly offered though with the words

Let me

by Papa, Mem and Sven after Mama tries to help.  Like the hen, Henry does everything himself.

And he did.

Urban adds the right touch of humor with her wonderful word choices for each family member's thoughts and suggestions.  You will find yourself nodding your head and laughing when you read

...sick of it.
...itty-bitty chair or
elbowing and calling dibs.  

Her use of alliteration adds to the beat and sheer joy found in the repetition.  The technique of using and more than once in a sentence creates a playful, childlike pace.  When reading this aloud, the sentences make music. 

The look of disgust on Henry's face on the matching dust jacket and book case with his Mama and Papa and Mem and Sven getting him ready for a ride in his wagon, smiles on their faces, sets the tone for the entire book.  The eagerness seen in the family's expressions and body language is in direct contrast to Henry hugging his knees.  On the back, to the left, an interior scene is shown.  Henry is brushing his own teeth as the family peeks around the doorway watching.  Four small illustrations on the opening endpapers show Mama, Papa, Mem and Sven taking those items in their hands and placing them on Henry.  He looks more ready for roller derby than a simple ride through the neighborhood.  The closing endpapers in another set of four pictures complete the story.

Graphite drawings by Madeline Valentine were printed on watercolor paper and then painted in gouache for the visuals.  After the two lengthy introductory sentences accompanying the entire family on a walk, when Henry speaks his first frustrated sentence, Valentine alters her perspective and the use of white space to make an impact.  With each page turn, details create comedy.  

When Henry states he can choose his own clothes, Valentine gives readers twelve vignettes of this process guaranteed to create giggles.  As Henry and Gibson are hanging upside down on the monkey bars, the four heads of his family are looking from behind a tree.  Valentine's color palette and layout enhance the glee in watching this family for a day.  

One of my favorite illustrations spans two pages.  Matthew is hiding behind his bedroom door on the right as Papa's, Mem's and Sven's arms extend through the opening offering clothes' choices.  To the left we can see a set of pre-picked clothes folded on his little red chair.  His toy robot and spiky dino-snake are on the floor.

Little Red Henry written by Linda Urban with illustrations by Madeline Valentine will have listeners and readers alike grinning from ear to ear.  A little bit of every family is woven into the words and pictures.  Whether it's shared during a group story time or at bedtime, it's a winner.  

To learn more about Linda Urban and Madeline Valentine and their respective work, please follow the links attached to their names, taking you to their websites.  Linda Urban and Madeline Valentine were part of a trifecta at teacher librarian extraordinaire John Schumacher's Watch. Connect. Read., stand-on-a-table-yelling-I-Love-To-Read educator Colby Sharp's sharpread and at the Nerdy Book Club.  Linda Urban was a guest at The Little Crooked Cottage.  At the end of the PW KidsCast Linda Urban speaks about this title. (Plus you get to hear about her other new book coming soon.)  At the publisher's website an interior image is shown. 

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