CM . . .
. Volume IX Number 1 . . . . September 6, 2002
"The Little Red Hen," "The Ugly Duckling" and "Chicken Little" are the three classic folk and fairy tales included in this latest "Once-Upon-A-Tale" collection. Helmer's retellings remain true to the most well-known versions. In the first offering, the industrious little red hen works very hard to turns grains of wheat into bread while the lazy cat, duck and pig idly watch. They get their comeuppance at the end when the little red hen indignantly replies to their request for food:
In "The Ugly Duckling," the "large grey chick with straggly feathers" is teased and humiliated because of his appearance. He runs away to hide in a marsh but is very lonely. He longs for a friend but is rejected by wild ducks and a farmer's family. Hans Christian Andersen's version has many more dangers in store for the duckling, but here the trials are abbreviated: "Somehow he managed to survive the rest of the winter." When he grows up into a beautiful swan, he knows he "will never be lonely again."
In the final story of the collection, Chicken Little believes the sky is falling when an acorn hits him on the head. On his way to tell the king, he is joined by Cocky-Locky, Ducky-Lucky and Goosey-Loosey. The sly Foxy-Loxy offers to show them a shortcut to the palace, and everyone except Chicken Little meets an unfortunate ending: "Suddenly, snap! went Foxy-Loxy's jaws. That was the end of Turkey-Lurkey."
Watson's oil paintings have a folksy feel and are appropriate for these familiar tales. The full-page illustrations are full of background details such as pastures, barnyards and country roads. Just as the writing does not elaborate on violent scenes, the illustrations are also not too scary. The picture of Foxy-Loxy creeping up behind his first unsuspecting victim gives a glimpse of his big teeth.
Helmer doesn't include any source notes for the stories in the collection. I was also disappointed that there wasn't an author's note explaining why she selected these three particular stories over others. Helmer's versions offer patterned language and satisfying endings, but neither the writing nor the artwork makes this work stand out from others in the genre. However, fairy tale books are always in demand, and large libraries might wish to purchase this title.
Recommended with reservations.
Linda Ludke is a librarian in London, ON.
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