In this adaptation of Chaucer's The Nun's Priest's Tale Chanticleer the rooster rules the barnyard, or at least his seven wives. A good widow and her two daughters run the productive and efficient farm on which Chanticleer resides, and he is the finest and most beautiful of roosters.
One day the farm's peace and industry is disturbed by a hungry (as usual) cunning (as always) fox. When the fox begins to flatter Chanticleer, he accepts the praise with dignity, as befits a rooster of his caliber. But his dignity is shattered when the fox snatches him up and carries him off to the woods for a tasty meal. Is all lost for Chanticleer?
In Barbara Cooney's Caldecott medal acceptance speech for this book she said:
"I believe that children in this country need a more robust literary diet than they are getting. …It does not hurt them to read about good and evil, love and hate, life and death. Nor do I think they should read only about things that they understand... For myself, I will never talk down to, or draw down to, children."
Chanticleer and the Fox is a perfect demonstration of Cooney's belief (with which we wholeheartedly agree!). It's a book that is literary, smart, and respectful of children without sacrificing engagement or interest. The colorful and interesting pictures, the cheerful moral, and the snarky and fun prose make for good reading.
This is one of the last books Cooney did in scratchboard and "pre-sep," back in the days when each additional color cost extra to print, and each page had to be done in a different layer for each color. As if that's not already impressive enough, consider the incredible amount of detail and research she put into the book. Also from her Caldecott acceptance speech:
''How many children will know that the magpie sitting in my pollarded willow in Chanticleer and the Fox is an evil omen? How many children will realize that every flower and grass in the book grew in Chaucer's time in England? How many children will know or care? Maybe not a single one. Still I keep piling it on. Detail after detail. Who am I pleasing—besides myself? I don't know. Yet if I put enough in my pictures, there may be something for everyone. Not all will be understood, but some will be understood now and maybe more later.''
Quite simply, this is one of the most deserving books to ever win the Caldecott medal. It's one of those books we love, one that takes children seriously, has a strong literary base, and is entertaining. This is one of the must-have picture books in any child's (or adult's) library. Highly recommended.
Review by Lauren Shearer
Lauren Shearer writes words for fun and profit. She also makes films, but everyone knows you can't make a profit doing that. Her other hobby is consistently volunteering way too much of her time. You can read more of her reviews here
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