Mrs. Chicken and the Hungry Crocodile

mrschicken Mrs. Chicken and the Hungry CrocodileThere are so many stand-alone folktale picture books that it’s always hard to choose just one for us to read together. But I like this one for its humor, voice, and authenticity. Interestingly, it also represents two story types: noodleheads (heroes or heroins who are a bit scatterbrained) and tricksters (a small person or animal who is lower in a hierarchy — like the food chain — tricking the higher-up character).

I urge you not to try too hard to find a message for children here. Lots of folktales are meant for pure enjoyment and escapism. One reason kids like trickster tales is because they can identify with the lower class or smaller characters, since most of the time in their world, the adult calls the shots — and wins the arguments.

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Lolly Robinson About Lolly Robinson

Lolly Robinson is the designer and production manager for The Horn Book, Inc. She has degrees in studio art and children's literature and teaches children's literature at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education. She has served on the Caldecott and Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committees and blogs for Calling Caldecott and Lolly's Classroom on this site.

Comments

  1. Sarah Cooper says:

    I really enjoyed this book. The narrative was humorous and engaging and the visual elements were lively and incorporated a lot of action and movement (esp the scene when the chicken is looking at “herself”in the water). This would work well in classes studying folktales about underdogs vs villains like “The Tortoise and the Hare”, “Outfoxed” or even Mo Willem’s new book “This is not a good idea” to give kids a sense of how sometimes likely victims can manage to outwit foes by keeping calm and collected! Kids would enjoy the humor, and I liked how Mrs Chicken did learn her lesson too!

  2. Kim Fernandes says:

    I thought this book was fantastic, and definitely agree that there may not be an explicit message for children/that this may be something more focused on entertainment. I particularly liked the illustrations and the various sides of Mrs Chicken’s character that we saw — she appeared somewhat shallow when she was first complaining about the size of the puddle, but then made up for it by thinking her way through things and managing to escape the clutches of the crocodile. I think this book would work well for children to see that both noodleheads and tricksters are not uni-dimensional, and that sometimes a character can be both.

  3. Jennifer Stacy says:

    It’s interesting that you urged us not to look too hard for a lesson. I felt like a lesson I saw without much thought was along the lines of thinking quickly and cleverly to get out of a problem. I also wondered how a child might interpret the element of lying, which leads to the interesting question of when it is ok to fib (like when it comes to matters of safety).

  4. Sarah Thompson says:

    I agree with Jennifer that the lesson is one of quick-witted self-preservation! And perhaps a bit about the power of relatedness in the world. I found it interesting that the crocodile character was female–is this an unusual choice? I suppose I’m just used to the paradigm of the evil male character and the (seemingly) weak and vain female character–apparently I could have used some exposure to tales like this one as a child!

  5. Dayna Lellis says:

    I think this book would be great to read to children because it is not one of the “typical” folktales that many children encounter since it is a retelling of a Liberian story. Like Sarah T., I also found it interesting that both of the characters were female (although necessary for Mrs. Chicken’s plan). By having characters of the same gender portray such different traits, it challenges some of the traditional gender roles that readers might expect when it comes to personality and power. The illustrations were visually appealing and one must admire Mrs. Chicken’s ingenious plan to escape death.

  6. Lindsey Horowitz says:

    A lot of the posts above have commented on Mrs. Chicken’s characterization, but I think that the crocodile’s characterization was also unique. Not only did the crocodile outwit Mrs. Chicken in the river scene, but she also sacrificed her own food in order to make Mrs. Chicken more plump. Because of this, I would say that she is quite a dedicated character, and not an unreasonable one, either. This unusual characterization relates to what Danya and Sarah mentioned about gender roles, and how neither character measures up to expectations in the usual fashion – they exceed them.

  7. Esther (Kyungeun) Lee says:

    I loved the color scheme of this book. The details of all the images, especially the two main characters, were unique and intriguing. My favorite illustration was the one in which Mrs. Chicken tries to see her reflection in the pond and finds the hungry crocodile instead. In very subtle ways, they do look like reflections of each other (must be the way their bodies are angled). Which hints at the ending in which Mrs. Chicken convinces the crocodile that they are, indeed, from the same family. I enjoy stories like these when an “underdog” outwits its “opponent.”

  8. E. Ucan says:

    I enjoyed the unlikely pairing of a chicken and a crocodile and how, despite the initial adversity between the two, they were able to bond in the end of the story. I appreciate that the author points to similarities in these two characters. I like the narrative that you can find a friend in the most abnormal, even threatening, scenarios. The female characters bonding in the end over the birth of their children was a lovely way to end the story. It reinforces the author’s belief (so perceived) need for women to support each other. The playful artwork complimented this meaningful underlying statement.

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