CM . . .
. Volume XIV Number 15 . . . .March 21, 2008
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").
Dave Jenkinson, who lives in Winnipeg, MB, is CM’s editor.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.