Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Chicken Thief

Beatrice Rodriguez

There have always been wordless picture books on the market, but I have never really understood their appeal.  I like the words in a story. I find it soothing to know exactly what to say for each picture, and the comfort of having that cue to turn the page. I'm the narrator for a wordless book? Mmm ... what if I'm not saying the right things?  Many times I don't feel terribly imaginative and prefer to just coast along on the creativity of others.  

When Enchanted Lion came out with The Chicken Thief, I had barely glanced at the cover illustration and immediately knew it was a book I wanted to read.  A fox sprinting along with a chicken tucked tightly under his arm? Yeah, I'm going to need to know exactly what that fox has in mind. It wasn't until I took a closer look that I realized the description read "In this wordless story that is both funny and sweet ..." Grrr. I would have dismissed the whole idea, except that Enchanted Lion has a habit of putting out terribly good books. Maybe I could be persuaded to give wordless a try just this once ...
A handful of friends are enjoying a sunny day at their cottage, when a fox leaps from the bushes and swoops up unsuspecting Hen.  Clamping her beak shut with one paw, he dashes into the forest.  Bear, Rabbit and Rooster give chase, with angry scowls on their faces. Although the trio is is determined, they soon become fatigued, hardly able to keep up. Even Hen (who hasn't exerted one bit of energy) is nestled into Fox's arms, fast asleep. The other animals follow Hen's lead and find perches in trees to break for night-time, taking chase again in the morning.
In the morning, the animals are up and running, with scowls square on their faces. Fox knows his territory well, and leads the others on a merry chase. At one point, he makes his way through a series of tunnels, in which Bear gets stuck fast.  Fox and Chicken take the opportunity to play a leisurely game of chess while Rabbit works at twisting Bear free.

The animals chase on and on, over hills and across a lake. When they finally do catch up with Fox and Hen, things as not as they seem on the surface.  Fox has a fire stoked up in his sweet cottage, but it has not been built with the intent of roasting a chicken. Rather, the two friends are enjoying a hot drink in front of the fire. Explanations are hastily made to Bear, Rabbit and Rooster and the group relaxes.  

It turns out that wordless picture books are quite different from the regular sort, but they do offer their own advantages. We enjoyed the creative aspect of imagining what the animals might be saying on each page, and it sure is fun to hear what kids will come up with. The Chicken Thief is particularly good because of the great chase and the expressive illustrations. The body language and facial expressions of the animals convey so much that it is easy to forget about the lack of words on the pages.  I think in the world of wordless picture books, this may be the cream of the crop. I'm really glad I gave this book a chance!

Review copy provided by Enchanted Lion Books.

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