Monday, January 31, 2011

Chicken Big

A picture book that's ideal for beginning readers, Chicken Big is an amusing retake on "Chicken Little" (aka "Henny Penny") You know, the fable where a not-too-bright chicken (are there any other kind?) panics when an acorn falls on her head and she mistakenly believes the world is coming to an end (hmmm, why does the Tea Party suddenly spring to mind)?

In the new version by Keith Graves, the hero of the story is not in the least bit stupid. In fact, he's quite bright. Oh, and one other thing. He's big. Humongous, really. The story starts with the birth of our hero as he pops out of his giant shell. The other chickens in the coop are flummoxed and agree that he can't be a chicken. Because of his size, he must really be an elephant. The big guy proves them wrong the next day when an acorn falls on the smallest chick. She assumes the sky is falling, causing the others to run around like chickens without their heads. The big chick reassures them it was only an acorn and pops it into his mouth. The chickens regroup and conclude he's a squirrel.

And so it goes. The big chick continues to help out his relatives and they continue to misidentify him. Then the henhouse is robbed of its eggs. Once again it's Chicken Big to the rescue. Thanks to his height, he sees the fox making off with the eggs and reclaims them. Finally, the chickens accept him as one of their own and make room for him in the coop.

This book is laugh-aloud funny. The comic asides alone are worth the price of admission. After the smallest chicken mistakes Chicken Big for an elephant, we're informed in parentheses that "She was not the sharpest beak in the flock." Then there's the sign "No Elephants Allowed" outside the coop. With its wide array of fonts, speech bubbles, and juxtaposition of multiples panels alongside full-page illustrations, Chicken Big incorporates the elements of comic books to great effect.

The text has a straight-forward syntax, and the vocabulary--with the exception of the word humongous--shouldn't pose a problem for proficient beginning readers. However, I recommend introducing or rereading the original "Chicken Little" first so that kids can fully appreciate the humor. My favorite version is Henny Penny by Paul Galdone.

Chicken Big
by Keith Graves
Chronicle Books, 32 pages
Published: 2010

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