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Mrs. Chicken and the Hungry Crocodile | Class #5, 2016

Mrs. Chicken and the Hungry CrocodileThere are so many stand-alone folktale picture books that it’s hard to choose just one for us to read together. But I’ve used this one for several years because of 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.

Lolly Robinson About Lolly Robinson

Lolly Robinson is the creative director 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.

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  1. Kara Lawson says:

    Mrs. Chicken and the Hungry Crocodile is such a delightful, entertaining book to read, and particularly interesting that the author, Won-Ldy Paye, first heard the story from his grandmother as a child (such a powerful teaching point). I can’t wait to share it with my 3rd graders! The suspenseful, humorous fable is told with great pacing and colorful, lively illustrations. I especially love the way the animals’ bodies move on the page, twisting and curling playfully, which seems to lighten Mrs. Chicken’s dangerous situation. Even the typeface adds to the animated feel of this book. Students will undoubtedly get a kick out of Mrs. Chicken’s quick-thinking and problem solving; I look forward to adding this one to our study of fables and trickster tales.

  2. Heewon Yang says:

    I liked the story but also the pictures in Mrs. Chicken and the Hungry Crocodile.  The bold figures center the reader’s focus on the interaction of the characters, which is central to the fable plot.  The use of circular forms for the chicken and squares for the crocodile adds to the contrasting of their identities.  The earthy colors and triangles give the crocodile a wild villainy feel.  The placement of the characters and their postures make the pictures seem animated and suspenseful while the story and dialogue of the characters are humorous.  I especially liked how the background of the pages change from white to black when in the crocodile’s lair, then becomes white again once the chicken is out of the river and out of harm’s way.  It’s interesting to see that in tales like these (trickster), ‘brains over brawns’ is commonly reaffirmed.  The higher animal or person getting tricked is usually portrayed as lacking intelligence but physically more powerful while the trickster prevails with shrewdness.  

  3. Allison Bishop says:

    I loved getting to read this story – and I was struck by both how much of a noodle head (my typical term is “silly goose”, but I don’t want to get all confused about who has feathers!) the crocodile was! The scientist in me was thrilled at how the chicken was able to use the fact that both she and the crocodile laid eggs as her way to trick the crocodile.

    While I promise that I’m not digging for meaning, I’d love to use this book as a set-up for a biology/classification sort of lesson. It would make a great hook to start talking about how animals are similar and different, and what other sorts of animals Mrs. Chicken may have been able to pull her prank with!

  4. Kate Cunningham says:

    Some folktales and fables can sound sort of preachy and predictable, almost talking down to kids, but this Mrs. Chicken and the Hungry Crocodile was a delight to read, and told so skillfully by Paye and Lippert. It took me a while to get away from the notion that this tale had to have a lesson, but once I did it seemed to me that both Chicken and Crocodile act as tricksters in different parts of this tale, and both had flaws that made them fall for the others’ tricks. This is a little different than Lolly’s description above but I think kids would love the double trickster takeaway too, as children (especially siblings) often play tricks on each other back and forth. I thought the illustrations fit perfectly with the story, reflecting both folk art and the folktale’s Liberian heritage. I also personally loved that both characters in this folktale were female – something I’ve found rather rare in protagonists of folktales and fables.

  5. Annie Kleiman says:

    This was such a clever story, especially the switching of the babies. I was especially amused by how convincing Mrs. Chicken was; I almost felt sorry for the crocodile because she was so excited to have a sister!

  6. Kaitlin Herbert says:

    I agree with what Kate said- a lot of fables certainly seem very preachy and the lesson is often very obvious. I enjoyed this fable, especially the cunning abilities of the chicken (which is often a reversed role in typical fables), and the hidden lesson: not to take what you have for granted (puddle vs. river). I also really enjoyed the illustrations in this text as they were bright and used beautiful geometric patterns to illustrate differing textures.

  7. Jason Brown says:

    I was most captivated by the pictures of this story. To add to what Heewon said, there is a stark contrast between the crocodile and the chicken, aside from just their personalities. The crocodile is styled in a green color, whereas the antagonist character is in the opposite color, orange. I also felt the many geometric shapes the illustrator used were pleasing to the eye and urged me to keep reading.

    Aside from the pictures, I thought the storyline was captivating. I actually felt nervous for the chicken at the beginning when she was in the water near the crocodile. I think when the reader expresses emotions and feels sympathy for the characters, the author did a fine job with the storyline!

  8. Sarah Cole says:

    This story was so entertaining! In the beginning of the story the chicken does come across as a bit of a noodle head, due to her obsession with viewing her own wings and this mistaking a crocodile for her own reflection. But then by the end of the story she seems really quite clever! I think the genre itself allows some of this flexibility- it worked so well together to provide a funny tale!

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