by Judy Newman with Alexie Basil and Alana Pedalino
I had to grapple with some larger-than-usual neurotic issues while writing this week’s Life of a Reader post.
Like any “live” production that generates fresh content (Saturday Night Live, CBS Sunday Morning, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon) we are on a tight deadline each week to get the Scholastic Book Clubs blog conceived, written, filmed, and produced in time to go live on Tuesdays, when the newest Book of the Week goes on sale.
And grandiose comparisons to iconic television shows aside, what we are trying to do—through this blog and through everything we create at Scholastic Book Clubs—is make sure teachers and families can help all kids, from every economic, cultural, racial, political, attitudinal, and family background, have consistent access to choose and own excellent, affordable children’s books.
Our singular goal is for every child to become literate and declare: “I am a reader.”
As far as this blog goes, here’s our process:
1. We have an informal “writers’ room” each Friday. Alana and Alexie pitch ideas to me, and they show me David’s comic (which David always brilliantly creates weeks ahead of time).
2. Then I work over the weekend to craft a post I hope will be interesting and entertaining.
3. If all goes well (e.g., no writer’s block, no distracting catastrophes from the outside world, and no emergency burst pipes or power outages) I turn in a solid draft on Monday morning.
4. The team reviews, copyedits, adds links, checks references, and hopefully gets my essay in interesting and entertaining shape for you to read and be inspired by.
This week, per usual, Alana and Alexie sent me some ideas. And because this week we are featuring David Ezra Stein’s Caldecott Honor–winning picture book, Interrupting Chicken, a lot of their ideas were about my relationship with poultry and how the only two dishes I can create with confidence are Chicken Marbella and Egg in the Hole. But as confident as I am about making these two recipes, I was not at all comfortable connecting them to Interrupting Chicken.
Like Interrupting Chicken, many of my very favorite children’s picture books of all time—The Story of Ferdinand; Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile; The Runaway Bunny; Chrysanthemum—feature anthropomorphized animal characters.
But unlike Interrupting Chicken, I don’t see those characters’ species on my own lunch or dinner menus. I never try to cook—let alone eat—these friends.
In full disclosure, there is one exception: once a year, pre-pandemic, when I attend the Frankfurt Book Fair and take 45 minutes to drive to Michelstadt, a town in the Odenwald in southern Hesse province, Germany, to visit our friends—the Gröners and the Freitags.
When we visit, we always stay at Drei Hasen, the Gröners’ 300-year-old traditional German inn and restaurant right in the center of town. The Gröners—Conny, her husband Willi, and their son, also Willi—serve incredible feasts, including a house specialty, which is a delicious duck dish. While I am enjoying this incredible meal with wonderful friends and our extended German family at a special reserved table, I do have to create psychological distance from Jack and Kack and Lack and Mack and Nack and Ouack and Pack and Quack and their journey through the Boston Commons in another of my favorite children’s books, Make Way for Ducklings.
But other than this annual duck feast, my children’s book friends are not in my meal plan or saved recipes.
So I threw away the idea for connecting Interrupting Chicken to my culinary life and read this book for what it is: a brilliant and fun and engaging picture book about a little chicken who—just like me—tries to reroute unhappy endings.
A Caldecott Medal or Honor means that the Caldecott committee of the American Library Association has selected this book as one of the best-illustrated books of the year. The illustrations do have to be exceptional and distinctive, but an award of this stature also means there is something else, something deeper—and timeless—in the title.
That’s the case with Interrupting Chicken. Of course it’s an entertaining, funny story with delightful, colorful, and expressive illustrations. But it’s about a lot of other things too: the love between a papa and his chicken; the joy of reading together at bedtime; the little red chicken’s determination to create happy endings; and…how exhausted parents often are at the end of the day.
Each of the posts we put together this week reflects one facet of this award-winning picture book.
• The Book Boys reenact the story in a hilarious, kid-friendly video—and explain why Elliott feels the need to interrupt.
• Creator David Ezra Stein shares his inspiration and creative process in Behind the Scenes.
• Elementary school teacher Suzanne Klagholz offers some fun and engaging ways to use Interrupting Chicken in class with students in Book Talks—including a “Respectful Chicken Behaviors” chart.
• Kids can get creative and write their own bedtime stories in Cooked Up from a Book.
Plus David Vozar remembers his own read-aloud bedtime rituals with his son:
Like all great children’s books, Interrupting Chicken can be enjoyed on so many levels. And for me, it’s about empowerment: the little red chicken is verbal, creative, intelligent, and thoughtful and interrupts her papa’s reading to take control of the situation to warn the storybook characters (some of whom originated in the Odenwald!) of the peril she knows awaits them.
I can never resist the opportunity to remind you—and ask you to tell everyone you know—that reading aloud to a child at bedtime is a critical part of raising a healthy and literate human being.
Anyone—moms, dads, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, friends, stuffed animals—can do it. Just the act of making a book part of a shared bedtime ritual is good enough…and life changing. And please spread the word to all families that there is no right or wrong way to read aloud to a child. You don’t have to be a professional to be great at it!
It’s also great to remind families that it’s wonderful to let your little chicken read to you! If kids don’t like the way the story is going, let them interrupt and tell it their way.
(Since I am oversharing this week, I will tell you that I too was terrified of scary stories when I was a kid. Just like the little red chicken, I hated the stress of Hansel and Gretel confronting the witch; or Little Red Riding Hood meeting the wolf-dressed-as-a-grandma; or wishing Chicken Little didn’t have to suffer so much anxiety about the sky that wasn’t really falling. I wish Interrupting Chicken had been on our family’s bookshelf at the time to help give me creative inspiration and permission to try to reroute the story. You can bet Interrupting Chicken is in constant rotation when I read aloud to kids.)
Critics agree with me, our Scholastic Book Clubs team, and the 2011 Caldecott committee that Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein is a book that can find a perfect spot on every child’s bookshelf.
“Closing with an intimate snuggle after Papa instantly dozes off, this tender iteration of a familiar nighttime ritual will be equally welcomed by fond parents and those children for whom listening to stories is anything but a passive activity.”
I hope you enjoy this week’s posts and take advantage of the opportunity to get copies of Interrupting Chicken for just one dollar for all the chickens in your life. As always, I’d love to hear from you, so please feel free to write to me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org.
INTERRUPTING CHICKEN. Copyright © 2010 by David Ezra Stein. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.