Bookscoops

The Scoop on Children & Adolescent Literature

Louise, The Adventures of a Chicken by Kate DiCamillo & Harry Bliss

Posted by hollybookscoops on November 4, 2008

louise-chx1

The cover of this book fascinated me when I saw it displayed on the library book shelf. A chicken riding a wave on a log like a surf-board just cried out, “Read me!” So, I did. The adventure is composed of three chapters, each with a new story, starring Louise, the Chicken. I have to admit, my hopes were dashed a bit when I discovered that Louise doesn’t actually surf, she just hangs onto a piece of a ship for dear life.  However, the adventures were full of just what children love to imagine taking part in: Sailing on a ship that gets attacked by pirates (although I must admit the illustration of a drowning pirate was a little much for a children’s story), joining a circus and being chased by a scary lion, and finally, traveling to a foreign country. The fourth chapter concludes the book just as Louise ends each chapter, by returning home to the safety and security of familiarity. Except for the drowning pirate, I really enjoyed the vivid, playful illustrations. My children especially loved it when Louise runs away from the lion and repeatedly turned to that page to get a good laugh.

So, my one issue: I know the pirate was bad and I think it’s fine to infer that the pirates drowned, but I think acutally illustrating a drowning pirate goes too far (although my children didn’t seem to be bothered by it). But, perhaps you think it opens a good discussion for why we don’t go in water without adult supervision or why we don’t become pirates? Where do you think the line should be drawn when dealing with death in children’s literature?

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9 Responses to “Louise, The Adventures of a Chicken by Kate DiCamillo & Harry Bliss”

  1. Britt said

    Yeah, that seems like a bit much to me, but I don’t know that my 4 yo would realize what was going on. She might just think the pirate was swimming, playing in the water, or being generally silly. Depends on what the pic looks like.
    Now you’ve got me curious…..

  2. I think it all depends on your child and how much they are aware of what is going on. Lot’s of cartoons and kids show have people going splat at the bottom of a cliff, etc. So to me its pretend versus reality and you can clarify it with them. You can also turn it into a discussion about why you don’t go swimming or become pirates. Although I kind of like pirates. All pirates aren’t bad.

  3. Britt- On the second read through my 2-year old pointed to the drowning pirate a couple of times. I think what bugged me is that it wasn’t just a picture from the side or back seeing a pirate sink down to his watery grave. It was a picture from the top, showing the pirate reaching desperately for the surface with a panic-stricken face saying something like, “glub, glub”. I guess sometimes death is harder to swallow when it seems so real and maybe it’s my mothering instinct, but I just wanted to reach through the pages and help the pirate onto a piece of drift wood instead of watch him die. I think it would be hard for any child to think the pirate was just swimming. My 2yo isn’t very verbal yet but he looked worried or maybe perplexed as he pointed to the pirate.

    Cari- The book is a little cartoony in that it’s illustration, however I think it’s a different level than Wylie Coyote and Sylvester the Cat going splat. So, which pirates do you like?

  4. Well, pirates are often in service of someone. Some of the English Privateers, who were pirating Spanish gold were sanctioned by the British Crown. Then there was John Paul Jones, Americans thought he was a hero, but he made it over to England during the Revultionary War and burned a few things. Nothing major, but he was probably seen as at minimum a traitor and possibly a pirate. So sometimes it depends on what side your on.

    Another note, sounds like it may be too much for certain age groups, if your 2 year old seems worried then yeah probably not the book for him.

  5. Ah, but you forget. This is Kate DiCamillo, author of one of the most brutal children’s book’s I’ve ever read – The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. In that chapter book, the china rabbit Tulane gets thrown into the sea, lives underwater for a year, gets buried in garbage, sees a child die, and gets broken into pieces. One drowning pirate probably seemed almost cute.

    I’m with you, I don’t think that it’s appropriate. (And I hated Tulane for much the same reason.)

  6. hollybookscoops said

    I’ve never read Tulane, but maybe Harry Bliss did. I had figured he was acting on his own to add that drowning pirate in. From what I understand most authors and illustrators don’t collaborate a lot on the illustrations- it’s all done at the discretion of the publisher. Then again, I would think that any illustrator trying to get a feel for an author’s work would probably research their past works. It’s also possible the publisher steered the illustrator down that path.

    I still agree- not appropriate for a young children’s book. Maybe DiCamillos’ books should have age recommendations on the front cover. I was probably naïve in thinking that it would be okay just because it was in the kid’s section.

  7. Oh yes, I remember Mother Reader’s whole Edward Tulane bit. I’m getting ready to post about this book. The drowning pirate I think has more to do with Harry Bliss’s illustrations than DiCamillo’s writing. I don’t think we should shield children from death, but talk about it appropriately. The age recommendation is age 4-8. Perhaps a good discussion starter for a young reader or either they just go right past it.

  8. hollybookscoops said

    Natasha- Oops! I guess I did miss the age recommendation. I’m excited to see your post.

  9. The only book I have read by DiCaillo is Because of Winn-Dixie and I liked that book. I am real curious now about this one so I will have to check it out.

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