Chicken Little

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Basic Plot Summary: When an acorn falls on his head, Chicken Little believes the sky is falling and he runs to warn the town. As he convinces his friends (all with rhyming names), they all join together and are on the way to tell the king when they meet Foxy Loxy. Foxy Loxy convinces them that they will be safe in his den, so they go inside and are eaten.

This story got its start as part of the oral tradition of folk stories and is said to go back more than 25 centuries. Although other countries and cultures tell the story differently, the rhyming names appear to be a consistent element. I grew up hearing the main character as Chicken Little, but some versions go with Chicken Licken or Henny Penny. The character’s catch phrase (‘The sky is falling!’) has become synonymous with hysteria and panic over nothing. The Disney Studios produced a full length feature loosely based on the original story as well as a notable 1943 animated propaganda short meant to illustrate how the Nazis could prey on the weak-minded. In many modern versions, the ending is changed to a happier version, where a mayor or king steps in to save the day.

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Chicken Little – The father and daughter team of Ed and Rebecca Emberley bring their vibrant color palette to this story and infuse it with lots of comic goofiness. Chicken Little incites a panic in all the other birds and they continue to run around with no plan throughout the book, so distraught that when Foxy Loxy offers a ‘warm, dark cave’ where they will be safe, they run right into his mouth without thinking. Fortunately, he sneezes them all back out again for a somewhat happy ending.  (Roaring Brook Press, 2009)

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Brave Chicken Little – We get to see Chicken Little actually use some smarts in this version, which is nice for a change. Robert Byrd gives him an entourage of all the usual rhyming-named characters and there are 10 of them by the time they meet up with Foxy Loxy, who is a husband and father here. Foxy Loxy throws the whole group into his cellar as future meals for his family, but Chicken Little escapes, outsmarts him and rescues his friends. The illustrations are colorful, but there’s so much going on in them that it’s a little overwhelming. (Viking, 2014)

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The Sky is Falling! – When the acorn hits Chicken Little on the head, careful observers will see Fox in the background with a slingshot, trying out a cunning plan to get himself a chicken dinner. Author/illustrator Mark Teague has something different in mind for this more humorous version, though. Instead of panicking, the chickens start dancing. Squirrel and Rabbit initially look on with disdain, but eventually join the dance. The artwork is wonderfully expressive and funny, but the story falters a bit at the end and doesn’t quite stick the landing.  (Orchard Books, 2015)

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Prairie Chicken Little – Author Jackie Mims Hopkins sets this story on the American prairie and the barnyard animals become prairie animals here, including a jack rabbit, a prairie dog and a meadowlark. They still get to have silly names (such as Mary McBlicken the prairie chicken and Beau Grabbit the jack rabbit) but this time they are panicking over what they think is an impending stampede. I like that they are all too smart to fall for the coyote’s attempt to capture them. Henry Cole’s artwork, in watercolor, ink and colored pencil, gives us prairie grass and blue sky on nearly every page and a real sense of the open vastness of the area. A little repetitive, which is inherent in the original story, but the fun artwork and the clever use of internal rhyme make this a good version. (Peachtree Publishers, 2013)

And what did we learn? What I take away from Chicken Little is that overreacting to every perceived threat can make you not realize when you’re in actual danger.

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