Fowl Play

h1 July 28th, 2009 by jules


“Chicken Little was not the brightest chicken in the coop.
He was very excitable and prone to foolishness.
One day he was doing nothing, his usual pastime, when an acorn fell from the sky and hit him on the head.”

Want to know the recipe for taking a remarkably old, classic, beloved fable and making it fresh and sassy and exciting — and seem as if it’s all-new? Well, wait a sec. If I knew that, I’d be writing picture books. But one way to do it is the following: You get the very prolific Caldecott medalist Ed Emberley and his daughter, who herself has created more than thirty books for children, and you convince them to create a book together.

Rebecca and Ed Emberley’s Chicken Little has been out a while (released by Roaring Book Press in March), but even though I’m just now getting around to this post, at least I’m getting to it, huh? Because I mean, really, dear friends. Did you take a look at that cover? The Emberley’s version of Chicken Little is wonderfully weird and a laugh-and-a-half. Or, as Betsy Bird put it back in March, “this book is utterly wacked, in the best possible sense.” I say that the Emberleys’ version can join hands with Scieszka’s equally wacked-out version of the tale from this classic. These two versions have all the spunk needed to revive a tale that is possibly as old as the 6th century B.C. (At least the story’s fundamental elements appeared that long ago.)

What the Emberleys have done, as you can see here, is made our protagonist as brainless as the story calls for him to be — but also, I might add, ADORABLE. Calling him—and the story—”goofy” doesn’t quite cut it. There’s a sass here in the writing—”Momentarily they ran into Loosey Goosey. (Honestly, with names like these, is it any wonder?)”—and a real energy to the illustrations that takes it beyond silly or goofy — and straight into laugh-outloud clever. The shapes are fairly simple, the palette far from timid. Even the moments of unabashed onomatopoeia (“BONK! ONK!” and “OOP! ONK! ACK! AWK! EEP! BONK!”) are part of the spreads themselves, displayed in their own wobbly, agitated, high-energy font. Kirkus wrote that the book provides “the perfect balance between text and image.” The Emberleys even provide their own twist on the ending, though I promise no animals are harmed during the performance. The sneezetacular finale, involving a dramatic pull-out spread, involves the excitable group of fowl—who even collectively are a few haystacks shy of a farm—surviving, though, true to form for most versions of the fable, they don’t exactly survive by outwitting the fox. (And, in the Emberleys’ version, our fox looks downright and deliciously devilish. See his eyes below.)

Here are a couple more spreads from it. Click to enlarge each. And enjoy.


“As it was growing dark, they ran into Turkey Lurky…”


“‘Oh my goodness indeed,’ said the fox. ‘We must find a place for you to rest. Step into this warm, dark cave where the sky cannot fall on you.’
Without another thought in their tired, feathered heads (oh my gracious!), the flock went forward gratefully into the warm, dark cave.”

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BONUS: Check out this short interview with the Emberleys over at School Library Journal (from early May).

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CHICKEN LITTLE. Copyright © 2009 by Rebecca Emberley and Ed Emberley. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Roaring Brook Press, New York, NY.

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4 comments to “Fowl Play”

  1. [checking archives]

    I knew it, I just knew it, I wasn’t going crazy: “Bonk” also feature prominently in Jeremy Tankard’s Boo Hoo Bird (reviewed here a couple Kicksdays ago). It would not be stretching a point to say that, hmm, Bonk is in the air.

    Love the illustrations here, especially the one of Turkey Lurky: if you drained it of color, the bird’s depiction might look static, simply rotated on its access by, like, 120 degrees or so. But those *tail feathers*, jeez — the thing just explodes off the page.

    And who doesn’t love a protagonist with a severe case of the Excitable Befuddles?


  2. Now this looks like my kind of book! I’d not seen it, so many thanks for highlighting it here. Off to the library to find it!


  3. Yeah, Susan, I think you need it.

    John, thank you for “Excitable Befuddles.” Yeah, Tankard used “bonk,” too, but he used it as a noun, as in “Boo Hoo Bird’s got a bonk.” Which we *actually* say in our home, too. Pre-Boo-Hoo-Bird even.

    Exploding off the page — good way to put it. At the end, they almost literally do. Almost.

    Hope I’m making sense. I’m still in my Before Coffee state.


  4. Wow! This looks great. Ed Emberley’s the boss!


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