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Fox + Chick: The Party and Other Stories

I have a deep love for art that is excellent without being showy, and so I find myself in love with Sergio Ruzzier’s Fox + Chick: The Party and Other Stories. The Caldecott criteria include providing a child with a primarily visual experience, and here it is. Even children who can’t read but take a few moments to examine the dust jacket and cover will begin to glean elements of character, tone, and theme. On the jacket, we meet our main characters: Fox, serene and composed in the foreground; and Chick, demanding attention with a photobomb wave. The cloth cover deepens our understanding of character and relationship — Chick’s shade of yellow dominates, while Fox’s lovely shade of gentle red-orange wraps the spine, holding the book together. The bonus image shows Fox irritated with Chick for hitching a ride on his tail, foreshadowing the core personality conflict that fuels the plot. This is picture book art doing its job perfectly.

This is a picture book, a beginning reader, a comic — again, all clear from the cover. The shape says picture book, the careful hand lettering says beginning reader, and the speech bubble says comic. The intended audience won’t give genre a thought; they’ll just pick the book up and read it, which is the point. The harmony of the way Ruzzier blends genre elements throughout the book echoes the harmony between these two very different personalities, best demonstrated in a full-page spread that concludes the second story, in which Fox and Chick share a meal in Fox’s delightfully lived-in kitchen. Let’s pause and notice the comfort and beauty in the details of this spread — crumbs on the counter, cabinet door slightly ajar, a floor tile partly missing. Familiar quirks are a core element of any true bond; friendship cannot exist without flaws; and maybe Fox seems a little more put together, but he’s not perfect either. The most important things we’re learning come from the pictures, not the text.

Ruzzier’s art displays tension, too, in contrasts between sharp and soft, mirroring the gentle edge we see play out between these friends in each of their three stories. Ruzzier uses a lot of elongated triangles blunted at their sharpest point — Fox’s ears, Fox’s snout, Chick’s beak. The ink lines are strong but uneven and the colors, saturated but soft. The watercolors bleed through the lines here and there. The grey washes add shadow and depth to that which is otherwise bright. This is character and theme rendered visually, reminding me why I’ve always insisted on calling them beginning readers, not easy readers. There’s a lot going on in this small book.

I suppose this is more something that wins a Geisel than a Caldecott, but Ruzzier’s art checks all the Caldecott boxes. I think it’s the word “eminence” in the criteria that people get hung up on, thinking eminence and laughter can’t be friends, but they can. Personally, I think the Caldecott could use a few more parties in bathrooms, and there’s eminence in art that so seamlessly uses each visual element to show us how imperfection and tension can live in beautiful harmony. Look around — it is no small thing for human beings to learn how to truly see themselves and one another, to learn how to embrace difference and the things that irritate. This book is light and fun, yes, but Fox and Chick also teach us about being human. I hope the Caldecott committee takes that seriously.

[Read the Horn Book Magazine review here.]

Adrienne Pettinelli About Adrienne Pettinelli

Adrienne Pettinelli is the director of the Henrietta (NY) Public Library. She served on the 2015 Caldecott Committee.

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Comments

  1. Yes Ruzzier’s art does indeed “check all the Caldecott boxes.” And like his previous four picture book treasures that were reviewed on Calling Caldecott (“Have You Seen My New Blue Socks?”, “A Letter For Leo,” “This is Not a Picture Book” and “Two Mice”) he has again brought his classical European style to a book that you rightly note offers a lot that is going on. In a way this is a kind of hybrid of the past four both artistically and thematically, and for first graders loads of fun on read-aloud. Fabulous review on a both fully deserving of its being highlighted in this series. Hoping the committee takes a real good look at this book.

  2. Thanks, Sam! I’m glad to hear this is going over well with your first graders–I haven’t gotten to read it aloud to a group yet, but there’s so much there for kids to notice and react to.

  3. Susan Dailey says:

    Wonderful book, wonderful review! What a joy to see the talent and attention to detail that authors/illustrators are bringing to beginner readers. Ruzzier captures expression so well in his deceptively simple style.

    Just wanted to point out that the book is dedicated to Robin Smith, Is this “Calling Caldecott’s” Robin?
    Another question–I really liked the simple font used for the title on jacket and title page. I’m curious why this same font wasn’t used for the story titles throughout the book. Any ideas?

  4. Susan, yes, that is CC’s Robin. Also, great question about the font. I will take a look today.

  5. Dean Schneider says:

    I love this book, and not just because it was dedicated to my wife, who loved Ruzzier’s work. It is certainly a Caldecott contender. It felt like George and Martha/Frog and Toad in its accomplished and humorous storytelling with so few words. Ruzzier’s illustration accomplish a lot with a basic palette and seemingly simple lines that offer such personality to the engaging protagonists.

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