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Jul/Aug 2011 Reviews & Interviews

The Fox and Hen Series

Review by Colleen Mondor


Buy now from Amazon! In the annals of wordless picture books there is everything from the delightful (Alexandra Day's Carl series) to the desperately dull (so many other titles I don't have the time to list them all). Just as everyone thinks it is easy to write a picture book, we also tend to think that a book with only pictures must be the kind of thing one can churn out before breakfast. (The fact that far too many publishers agree with this conclusion is the only way I can explain all those desperately dull wordless titles that are out there.)

I was quite pleased then to immerse myself in the first book in Beatrice Rodriguez's "Fox and Hen" series, The Chicken Thief. From the cover illustration, of a fox running through the woods tightly grasping a hen, readers will think they know what's going to happen. It won't be a graphic ending (this is a children's book after all) but a fox and a hen typically means an attempt at an easy meal. But as shown in the opening spreads, where Rodriguez depicts a sweet cottage with Bear, Rabbit, Rooster, Hen and friends living in harmony (having breakfast in the garden!), it is clear this story is not going in the expected direction. As it turns out, after many twists and turns involving a chase through mountains and across the sea, Fox loves Hen and vice versa and they end up happily ever after drinking hot cocoa in front of a fire in their own cozy home. This is thus a surprise story and the last spread will likely persuade readers to go all the way back to beginning to see what clues they missed along the way. What really makes it work though - aside from the gentle color palette, expressive faces and action-packed spreads - is the absolute refusal on the author's part to rely on convention. There is no cloying sweetness to The Chicken Thief (or its equally fun sequels), just a vibrant adventure story that manages to convey a saucy attitude with a gentle message which only continues in the next entry, Fox and Hen Together. (All I can say about that one is that Hen goes fishing, Fox is left to take care of her egg, the refrigerator is empty and well, another chase ensues but I shall not reveal the ending because that just wouldn't be fair. But you already know that Rodriguez is not going to do what you expect so keep turning those pages and hold on tight until you see what transpires.)

The final book and most recently released book in the trilogy, Rooster's Revenge, picks up when Bear, Rabbit and Rooster departed the two friends at the end of the first book. The trip back to their cottage does not go well - a storm, a shipwreck, a rescue by mysterious giant turtles! And then Rooster discovers something mysterious (it glows!) and is determined to keep it while Bear and Rabbit give chase (are you picking up on the chase theme in these books?) through a cave and a mushroom forest and back to their own woods and you will not believe what happens when his mystery package opens!

There is a happy ending - a funny, slightly surreal, totally perfect ending and any pre-reader is going to be tickled by every step of this journey. Rodriguez understands that without the words, the pictures have a sizable responsibility to keep the story from becoming nothing more than a series of pretty pictures. You still need a narrative and she nails it with the Fox and Hen books giving readers everything they want with cheekiness and spunk and a lot of oohs, ahs and laughter. I'm tempted to say this is the series the cool little kids will be paging through but I know if I write that then the books will become all trendy and soon showing up on the blogs as the best accessory with $75 toddler outfits and everything else a two-year old really doesn't need.

And really that would be so so wrong.

So what I'll say is that Beatrice Rodriguez surprised me with The Chicken Thief, kept me happily along for the ride with Fox and Hen Together and set me to shaking my head in amazement with Rooster's Revenge. Yeah they're cool but that's not why you should reach for them. These are just good books and proof that with a lot of care, sometimes the words aren't needed at all.

 

The Chicken Thief
By Beatrice Rodriguez
Enchanted Lion 2010
ISBN 159270926

Fox and Hen Together
By Beatrice Rodriguez
Enchanted Lion 2010

Rooster's Revenge
By Beatrice Rodriguez
Enchanted Lion 2011
ISBN 1592701124

 

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