Monday, August 10, 2009

Les aventures d'une poule*

Chickens seem to have become the urban domestic animal of choice here in sustainable Portland, Oregon. Backyard coops are springing up (there was even a recent home tour) everywhere. I myself have enjoyed some beautifully orange scrambled eggs from a friend's hens. I kept those contented critters in my head while listening to Louise, The Adventures of a Chicken. This picture book, by Kate DiCamillo and illustrated by Harry Bliss, tells the very appealing story of the French hen, Louise, who longs for adventure and sets out to find it. She has many close calls -- she's captured by pirates, learns to walk the circus high wire and meets a tall, dark stranger. At long last, she returns to her friends on the farm and tells them her tales. All the hens then dream "the deep and dreamless sleep of the true adventurer."

This is a great picture book: Louise's adventures are told in a chapter format, and there are lots of wonderful phrases and sophisticated words for a young reader following along with the audiobook. The illustrations are funny and hold lots of surprises for the careful observer. Barbara Rosenblat reads the story, and she takes Louise's adventures to heart. While reading slowly enough for a child to follow along, she varies the pace enough to keep things interesting. She has lots of fun with dialog: There are nasty pirates (including one whose final words are hilariously gurgly as he sinks blub, blub, blub into the deep), an enthusiastic aerialist, a Middle Eastern fortune teller, and always the calm presence of fellow coop denizen, Monique. An astute listener can hear when Louise is getting bored, and then hear her perk up as she leaves the henhouse.

There are also a raft of fun sound effects: that drowning pirate, a busy barnyard, a howling storm at sea, a middle-eastern bazaar, a circus audience witnessing Louise's fall from the wire ... there are really too many to mention. The publisher, Live Oak Media, is very careful to include all the words in the book -- even those that are part of the illustrations, and these are done with remarkable subtlety. They've also created a great page-turn signal, the sound of ... a page turning.

Music also contributes to this fine audiobook. It -- along with the sound effects -- underlie pretty much the entire narrative, but it's never intrusive and always evocative. I wanted to keep turning the pages of Louise's adventures. As I think I've said before, I haven't done much listening to picture-book readalongs, but this was a standout among the few I've encountered.

*If my Babelfish-translated French is incorrect, please let me know ...

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