One of the older folktales with animal characters in which one is seeking assistance from others is The Little Red Hen. She asks multiple times, at various stages in her project, for help, but none is given. It is only when she is completely done, affirmative replies are offered in response to her final request. It is too late. A lively, recent variant on this classic story is The Little Green Hen (Candlewick Press, March 19, 2019) written and illustrated by Alison Murray. This hen's interest is not in the culinary arts.
Once, on top of a hill,
grew a beautiful, old, and
There was a hollow in the trunk of this tree where a little green hen resided. She tended this apple tree. She pruned, practiced pest control and planted. When the apple seeds she planted turned into saplings, she needed help. Her single apple tree was now part of an orchard.
For pruning she sought assistance from Peacock. He said no, but Dog said yes. Dogs and sticks go together very well. Fox refused pest control duty, but the smallest of brown sparrows agreed. There were still plenty of seeds to plant. A ginger cat who preferred sleeping was not an option. Squirrel offered his digging and concealing skills.
This foursome worked through three seasons, spring, summer and fall. They shared in the abundance the orchard provided them. They happily lived in the hollow of the apple tree trunk. Then the rains came. It kept on raining. The Little Green Hen, Dog, the smallest of brown sparrows and Squirrel stayed snug and dry, but Peacock, Fox and Cat were in trouble.
They were all on Cat's lounging log floating in the flood. They soon spotted the apple tree with hope in their hearts. This hen was no ordinary hen. She had hope in her heart, too. Some visions for a future are best realized together.
With one word, once, Alison Murray has us gathered around to listen to the tale she will tell. We know the outcome will be different. There is an apple tree and the hen is green. Alison Murray uses the storyteller's three enumerating the hen's tasks of pruning, pest control and planting.
The first splendid switch comes when the hen asks for help, and a negative reply is countered with a positive response three times. Alison Murray enhances the story by giving reasons for each character's answers; the peacock is preening, the fox would rather eat the Little Green Hen and the smallest of brown sparrows
was partial to pesky bugs.
The second switch is the flood, the Little Red Hen's answer to a request for help and the change in attitude of Peacock, Fox and Cat. It is through the flood and the Little Green Hen's tasks that Alison Murray invites readers to speculate about our environment and to see ourselves as caretakers. Here is a passage.
"And who will help me sow the apple seeds?"
"Not I," said the fat ginger cat,
who was far too busy lounging
on a log in the sun.
The vibrant, eye-catching color combinations on the open and matching dust jacket and book case are true attention-grabbers. The brilliant shades of green and blue with red and spots of pink and orange on the front along with the happy expression on the Little Green Hen's face ask readers to open the case. The hues on the front continue on the spine blending with the image to the left, on the back.
Here the four friends, the Little Green Hen, Dog, Squirrel and the smallest of brown sparrows are gathered in the hollow of the apple tree trunk. One pesky pest is with them, too. They are all looking to the left in surprise. A sky-blue background is showing on the left and peeking through leaves above the companions. The color of the apple tree trunk is in shades of purple and brown.
On the opening and closing endpapers Alison Murray has placed a beautiful green and cream pattern which is similar to the whorls seen in tree bark. On the initial title page, the Little Green Hen has her beak around the stem of a large apple. The title text is inside the apple. This is a close-up. On the more formal title and verso pages green leaves and apple blossoms on the left and the Little Green Hen seated on a branch near a large apple on the right give readers a larger view.
Each image digitally rendered conveys a can-do and uplifting atmosphere. The placement of the elements, the bold lines and color choices work together to accomplish this wonderfully. Some of the illustrations span two pages, single pages or are grouped two to a page. The layout and design are marvelous. To show the passage of the three seasons, two pages are divided with three vertical panels.
There is never any doubt as to the emotional status of the characters. This is conveyed mainly through the eyes; a lifting or lowering of eyebrows, closed eyes, wide, happy eyes or worried looks. This brings readers directly into the narrative.
One of my many, many favorite illustrations is the two pages with the three vertical seasonal panels. In the first one, on the left, against a pale blue sky is the top of the apple tree at the bottom. Sitting in the blossoming branches is the sparrow chasing away a pesky pest. In the center is the tree standing tall and covered in green apples on a lighter green canvas with the Little Green Hen tending to a sapling. On the right against a pale red background is the apple tree at the top with Dog leaning against the tree and apples in a basket near him. At the bottom in the top of the apple tree is Squirrel happily reaching for an apple. Has Squirrel been tossing apples into the basket?
For a folktale or fable theme, for a unit on variants, for attention directed toward stewardship and ecology or for the wonder of a fantastic story, The Little Green Hen written and illustrated by Alison Murray is an excellent choice. The blend of images and words is exemplary. Whether read one-on-one or with a group, you will be requested to read it again. You can pair it with The Little Red Pen in a fractured study. Alison Murray has also retold other tales; Hare and Tortoise and Dino Duckling. I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.