Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise by D. Stein
Stein, David E. Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise. Candlewick Press in Association with Penguin Random House Canada, 2018.
In this, his second picture book starring Interrupting Chicken, Stein begins with a delightful pun: Chicken declares that every good story has “an elephant of surprise.” Papa tries to convince her that she has misheard her teacher, that every good story has “…an element of surprise.” To demonstrate, he attempts to read aloud classic folk and fairy tales: The Ugly Duckling; Little Mermaid; Rapunzel. Chicken, of course, interrupts. The Ugly Duckling gazes at his reflection and sees “…an Elephant.” The prince ascends the tower on a rope of hair to discover that his love is “…an ELEPHANT!”. Papa is dogged; he keeps trying. Chicken is relentless; she keeps interrupting. The story hour goes on with appealing silliness until Papa graciously allows it to end, not surprisingly, with elephants.
A former Caldecott Honor winner, Stein creates not only this amusing storyline, but its illustration as well. He employs a variety of artistic techniques to great effect. The basic narrative, (including Chicken’s interruptions of Papa’s readings) is presented in cartoon style and bold crayon; the classic readings are highlighted with line drawings and water colour. Thus the theme of “interruption” is both conveyed and sustained by the art work.
There are a few provisos about sharing this book with primary school children: a child will more fully enjoy the inappropriateness—and silliness—of Chicken’s outbursts if he or she is familiar with the plotlines of the classic tales that Papa attempts to read. The wise parent, or teacher, or librarian will ensure this familiarity in the most obvious and enjoyable way: sharing the stories. There is a further consideration: the hilarity of Chicken’s behaviour arises because she either cannot, or will not, acknowledge the literary concept of a “surprise element.” Children who, themselves, can grasp that concept will laugh harder than children who cannot. Depending on the age and maturity of the child listener, a little didacticism on the part of the adult reader may be appropriate. With these requirements satisfied, this book is a winner.
Recommended: 3 out of 4 stars
Reviewer: Leslie Aitken
Leslie Aitken’s long career in librarianship included selection of children’s literature for school, public, special, and academic libraries. She is a former Curriculum Librarian of the University of Alberta.
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