No birthdays today that I know about so instead I want to write about two very special books by illustrators that I don't know the birthdays of. With Year 1 students this term we have been looking at stereotypes and in particular have looked at how foxes and chickens behave as characters in stories. We started by looking at traditional literature, such as Henny Penny or Chicken Licken and The Cock, The Mouse and the Little Red Hen, compared the foxes' behaviour here with contemporary stories such as Hattie and the Fox, Rosie's Walk and Albert and Lila. Towards the end of the unit, after having recorded their behaviours, listed describing words for each and made generalisations we read Helen Ward's The Rooster and the Fox and Beatrice Rodriguez's The Chicken Thief.
Helen Ward is an English author illustrator whose books are masterpieces of artwork. This story is a retelling of the French tale of Chanticleer and Pertelote which Chaucer includes in his Nun's Priest's Tale. We made predictions about the story from what was observed about the rooster and the fox on the cover of the book. I read stopping to closely examine and talk about the illustration on the page where Chanticleer dreams of a thing with "ears and nose and teeth...all sharply pointed." This illustration scared some of the children but they wanted to go on. In this story the fox flatters vain Chanticleer into crowing so that he is distracted enough for the fox to grab him. Later Chanticleer does the same to the fox, tricking him into letting go of his hold on his neck. The text is longer, the language more-demanding than many of the earlier books we read, but the children loved this story. You could hear a pin drop while I was reading, they were so engrossed. Helen's illustrations are meticulous and detailed and there is an appendix at the end of the story outlining the origins of the tale and giving details of the farmyard animals in the illustrations.
In contrast French illustratorBeatrice Rodriguez's The Chicken Thief is a wordless book, relying solely on evocative illustrations to convey the emotions and actions of the animals involved. Here too, we made predictions from the cover, firstly the front cover and then the whole cover, using observations and past knowledge from other stories, but the theme of this story is about how wrong our assumptions can be and it is in fact a love story, where the fox and chicken are in effect eloping. The children loved that they were wrong in their predictions and spent time looking back through the pictures for clues that they missed now that they had hindsight.
Both of these books proved to be great stimulus for very rewarding class lessons in the library.