________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 15 . . . .March 21, 2008


Little Charley Chickadee.

Clayton Bell, Illustrated by Cheryl Ruckle.
Flin Flon, MB: Lighthouse Publishers, 2007.
32 pp., pbk., $28.00.
ISBN 978-0-9783383-0-5.

Preschool-grade 2 / Ages 4-7.

Review by Dave Jenkinson.

* /4



Soon other birds saw Charley and all said to him, "Why are you walking, Charley. Birds fly you know." Not me, thought Charley, and away he went walking down the forest path. Charley ate seeds for breakfast, and seeds for lunch, and more seeds for supper, and then darkness came. Now Charley knew nothing about animals that walked about at night looking for something to eat, but he was sure to learn all about them. First he met Sammy Snake. Wow, that was too close, thought Charley. Then along came Ronny Rat. Charley hid in the grass till Ronny passed by. That was too close, thought Charley. Charley fell asleep, but only for a short time, as Willy Weasel ran past chasing Ronny Rat. And then Olly Owl grabbed Sammy Snake by the tail and carried him away. Now that was enough for Charley. "Who said walking was for the birds?" Up into the highest tree flew Charley, back to his nest. Safe at last, Charley unpacked his little suitcase, folded his white feathers and grey feathers away, hung up his warm socks, and crawled into his warm, cozy bed. And there Charley stayed. Now if you look high in a tree and see a small bird nest, and hear a bird singing a happy song...that will be Charley. (From "Little Charley Chickadee.")


Sometimes less is more, and that is certainly the case with Little Charley Chickadee which contains 14 anthropomorphic animal stories. Each pair of facing pages contains a single story along with two full-colour illustrations. Each story is just one very long paragraph, that paragraph only being interrupted by the two illustrations, one on each page. Bell might have produced a much more successful book had he not tried to cram in so many stories but had, instead, exploited the plot possibilities found within a few of the stories and developed them further. The above excerpt, which is taken from the book’s opening story that deals with Charley’s leaving the nest, the last of his nestlings to do so, readily offers examples of unexploited plot possibilities. When night comes, Charley seemingly elects to stay on the ground where he encounters a snake and then a rat, but, instead of creating tension as predators meet their possible prey, Bell simply writes, "First he met Sammy Snake. Wow, that was too close, thought Charley" and "That was too close, thought Charley." What happened that merited the two "That was too close" statements? Later in that same paragraph, "Olly Owl grabbed Sammy Snake by the tail and carried him away." Now, I know that Sammy was most likely Olly’s supper, but Bell has Sammy appearing again in later stories.

      Many of Bell's stories have blatantly didactic purposes. In "Angels' Flashlights", the lesson is the need to obey your parents; in "Charley Finds a Friend," it's learning how to deal with a bully, and in "A Stranger in the Forest," not talking to strangers, while "Charley’s Skating Party" points out the dangers of playing on supposedly frozen ice. Another "lesson" includes developing the quality of persistence ("Charley Sings His Song" and "School Time").

internal art      Ruckle’s illustrations appear to have been created using mixed media consisting of crayons and/or coloured pencils plus felt markers. Given that "little" Charley has just matured sufficiently to leave the nest (though he keeps returning to it), why did Ruckle elect to dress him in an "adult" top hat and tails while having him carry a cane? With the exception of Marky Moose who once dons a scarf, none of the book’s other animals wear clothes, even though the text mentions, for example, that "Mother Chickadee put on her hat and coat..." ("Angels’ Flashlights"). This inconsistency between anthropomorphizing one animal while representing the rest realistically is jarring. As well, given the excess amount of text on each page, the illustrations simply cannot capture what needs to be portrayed visually.

      Since most picture books today can be purchased in a hardcover format for around $20.00, a perfect bound paperback costing $28.00 is simply overpriced, regardless of what its production costs may have been.

Not recommended.

Dave Jenkinson, who lives in Winnipeg, MB, is CM’s editor.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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