Quote of the Month

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

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Pachyderm Problems

Children's love of telling stories is a constant source of delight.  Realizing the power in setting their imaginations free, they see this as a source of shared joy.  Their ability to connect dots and design a plot outside the box is a unique and amazing gift.

Once they get started they cannot contain themselves.  One story leads to another story and to a third story.  One individual will hear a part of their story in another's story.  It's an endless, glorious chain of stories.  In 2011 a Caldecott Honor book, Interrupting Children (Candlewick Press, August 10, 2010) written and illustrated by David Ezra Stein acquainted readers with Papa and Chicken, a father and daughter, with a daily ritual of reading a bedtime story.  Actually they read more than one story leading readers from one hilarious incident to the next.  Interrupting Chicken And The Elephant Of Surprise (Candlewick Press, September 11, 2018) written and illustrated by David Ezra Stein is the phenomenal companion title.  Papa and Chicken are at their wonderful best.

It was after school for the little red chicken.

After Papa greets Chicken she begins to tell him about her day at school.  Her teacher taught them about the elephant of surprise in every story.  Papa patiently explains it is an element of surprise.  His definition of an element of surprise rather than clarifying Chicken's mistake reinforces her use of the word, elephant. She states this meets the Whoa factor criteria.

Papa is convinced there will be no elephant in the story Chicken chooses for them to read.  As Papa reads, suddenly an elephant does pop up in the story's dialogue, courtesy of the little red chicken.  In the ensuing conversation between father and daughter one is convinced The Ugly Duckling has an elephant of surprise in it because all good stories do.

At Chicken's suggestion another book is chosen.  No one is more stunned at the presence of an elephant in Rapunzel than the prince and Papa.  Chicken, on the other wing, is thrilled and happy for the discovery.

By this time Papa is frustrated with all this silliness but allows Chicken to choose the required third story to complete her homework assignment.  The appearance of a pachyderm in this tale is even more ridiculous.  In Papa's final attempt to demonstrate the lack of elephants in all stories, he makes up his own story.  A burst of boisterous laughter is guaranteed from all readers at the twist Papa's tale takes and in the final sentence of this book.

The first sentence in this book, as it the previous title, is an honest-to-goodness simple statement of fact.  This astutely leads us into the conversational narrative between Papa and his little red chicken.  David Ezra Stein's sense of humor shines in every exchange between the daughter and father.  No matter what Papa says, Chicken manages to support her theory (and love of elephants) and of course, Ms. Gizzard's lesson.

When the fairy tales are being read by Papa and inserted into this book, David masterfully selects the perfect spot for an elephant to enter the story.  This creates excellent comedic pacing with maximum marvelous results.  Here are two adjoining passages.

With all haste, the prince began to climb.  When he
reached Rapunzel, he gazed at his love, and she said, ---
Surprise! I'm an
You've done 
it again!
You're welcome!

Chicken, I know there is no elephant in Rapunzel.
That is just plain ludicrous."

"Don't you feel sorry for the elephant, Papa? . . ."

It's impossible to look at the opened, matching dust jacket and book case without at least cracking a smile.  This introductory verbal exchange between Chicken and Papa sets the stage for repeated hilarity.  The blue elephant peeling back the paper and laughing heightens the mirth readers are already feeling.  David Ezra Stein's color choices here and throughout the book grab our attention and keep it.

To the left, on the back, is another speech bubble placed on top of the rose-patterned upholstery of Papa's chair.  It reads:

WHoa!  I didn't
know That was
going to Happen!

The opening and closing endpapers are covered in a deep, rosy-coral shade found in the roses.  On the initial title page, Chicken is peering through the window of her school bus as rain falls.  The title text is on a full, two-page picture of the interior of the little red chicken's home.  Seen through the front room window, the school bus has stopped.  Hints of Chicken's love of elephants are tucked into the image several times.

Rendered in

watercolor, water-soluble crayon, china marker, pen, opaque white ink, and tea

the illustrations contain animated characters ready to walk out of the book into our lives . . . and they do!  Some of the visuals extend from left to right crossing the gutter, cover a single page or are smaller and surrounded by liberal amounts of white.  When David inserts the four pages of the fairy tale into the story, they are in a complete different style.

The color choices are few and muted with a traditional, older illustrative technique.  This allows the presence of the elephant along with Chicken to stand out.  The elephant is garbed in appropriate attire, wings and feathers of a swan, a dress and long braids of hair and a grass skirt and coconut top.  The facial expressions on the other individuals in those fairy tales at the sight of the elephant are funnier than funny.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when Chicken is taking the third fairy tale book out of the bookcase.  This picture, loosely framed, extends from the left to the right over the gutter.  Chicken, on the left, is standing on the matching ottoman to Papa's chair and is holding the book.  Papa, on the right, has slipped down in his chair with legs extended and his glasses are clasped in one of his wings.  To the right on the floor next to Papa's chair is the box of cereal and carton of milk, still out after Chicken's snack.  Her bowl and his cup of coffee rest on a side table.  You get a real sense of Papa's patience, Chicken's determination and anticipation for the next round of laughter.

The stellar use of wordplay in Interrupting Chicken And The Elephant Of Surprise written and illustrated by David Ezra is excellent entertainment elevating it to be enjoyed by readers of all ages.  You can read this for fun, for a unit on fairy tales, for a study on the use of language or as a bedtime story.  I highly recommend you share this repeatedly and often as you can with as many as you can.  You'll want to have a copy in your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about David Ezra Stein and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  At the publisher's website you can view an interior image. (I know you're going to laugh.)  For the cover reveal and an interesting discussion about the book, take a few minutes to read this post at Publishers Weekly.  David participated in The New York Times Books Live Art.  

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