March 01, 2007


My Life as a Chicken. As told to Ellen A. Kelley. Pictures by Michael Slack. Harcourt. $16.

Only You. By Robin Cruise. Pictures by Margaret Chodos-Irvine. Harcourt. $16.

      These books are about as different as picture books can be, but both offer excellent melding of text and illustrations, stories that fit neatly into rhyme, and a great deal of reading satisfaction. Just pick your preference – something weird and hilarious, or something heartfelt and emotionally true – and make your choice. Or choose both books, since most families have quite a range of emotions themselves.

      My Life as a Chicken is the story of Pauline Poulet “as told to Ellen A. Kelley,” and Kelley certainly does tell it. Pauline hatches, grows to maturity (very quickly), and sets about her daily work of laying eggs. All is well for a while. Then: “But round my roost I hear suspicious/ words like ‘Chicken pie, delicious.’/ Has Farmer hatched a crafty plan/ to throw me in a frying pan?” With a loud “Bawwwk!” Pauline escapes, and then it’s “perils of Pauline” time (even if kids and many parents won’t realize that the phrase refers to an old-time series of adventures with a cliff-hanger at the end of every one). There’s the run through the woods, the encounter with the tornado, the soaking in the ocean, the capture by pirate cats, the escape in a hot-air balloon, and more – all to the tune of this resourceful hen’s repeated cry, “Pauline, Prevail!” And prevail she eventually does, finding a happy home at last in an ending as unbelievable (but satisfying) as everything else here. Highly satisfying, too, are the pictures by Michael Slack, without which My Life as a Chicken would not have nearly so much charm. The expressiveness of Pauline’s eyes is a wonder to behold, and the perils she faces are drawn with great style, from the huge-headed and toothy fox…to the evil-eyed octopus (apparently with only five arms, though, which would make it a pentapus)…to the one-eyed, peg-legged pirate cook.

      Margaret Chodos-Irvine brings an entirely different sense of style to the pictures in Only You, a simple and lovely book about the many ways a parent loves a child. Everything here is done in gentle curves – there’s not a hard edge in the book, and that makes perfect sense. Colors are gentle, too, attractive but not too bright. And the simple expressiveness of a child’s joy, sleepiness or loving cuddle is beautifully shown through stylized faces that brim with real emotion. Robin Cruise’s text goes well with the pictures, but it is almost as if the words illustrate the portrayals of characters rather than the other way around: “I love your laugh, your frown, your grin./ I love you from the outside in!” Chodos-Irvine’s pictures combine techniques from several forms of printmaking to create something that is new, striking, highly attractive, and a perfect fit for this gentle tale of the multifaceted love between parent and child.

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