Thursday, November 3, 2011

National Picture Month and Picture Book Thursday: Big Chickens

November is National Picture Book!  In celebration, each of my Thursday reviews for November will feature not only a book review, but also some questions answered by the author herself (they just all happen to be female).  Another special trait of the four authors I will be featuring is that they are all from the great state of Michigan! 

To start us off, today's book review is:
by: Leslie Helakoski and Henry Cole
Published by Dutton Children's Books on February 2nd 2006

An ordinary day on the farm turns into anything but ordinary when a wolf sneaks into the farmyard. The chickens scramble out of their coop and into the woods. What follows are their misadventures in the woods as they are too scared to go home.

But, a funny thing happens and by the end these four Big Chickens become big, brave chickens as they strut home.

I love how the story comes full circle, taking the chickens from timid, scared birds and turning them into proud, strong chickens. Much of the story's feeling and vibe comes from the vivid, fun words Leslie uses.

The chickens come back in two more stories: BIG CHICKENS FLY THE COOP, where the chickens are determined to visit the farmhouse and BIG CHICKENS GO TO TOWN, where the chickens wind up in town and get into their usual trouble.

Now I would like to turn it over to Leslie Helakoski, the amazing writer of the Big Chicken books as well as three others, including FAIR COW, which she also illustrated herself.

1. What was your inspiration for BIG CHICKENS?
Initially, it was my son laughing over the pun of 'chicken chickens'. But then, when I started playing with the idea of being afraid, I remembered walking in the woods with my sisters and all the things I was afraid of. Those chickens in the book are me and my three sisters and we really did encounter those obstacles. (Except the wolf was actually a dog.) 

2. When you wrote BIG CHICKENS, did you have sequels in mind or did they evolve over time?
No, I didn't have sequels in mind. The publisher asked for them. But fear was an easy topic for me. The second book, BIG CHICKENS FLY THE COOP, is about being afraid to venture out into the world to follow your dreams and running back to where it is 'safe'. And the third book, BIG CHICKENS GO TO TOWN, is about fear of something new and is set in my favorite city-- New Orleans.

3. Do you have any future projects you could share about?
I'm working on a book called 'Under the Table' for Boyds Mill Press right now. It is deep in the revision stage and feels all torn apart right now. But I will get it back together eventually. The art is due this spring, so I have to get going!

4. What are your thoughts on the future of picture books?
We're smack dab in the middle of a big change, that is for sure. But there will always be a place for pictures and stories, though the formats may be different than what we are used to right now.

5. Do you have any helpful insights for aspiring picture book writers?
Hold a child on your lap and read to him. Read all kinds of different things and see what he responds to. Keep that in mind but write for yourself. If you don't like what you write, no one else will either. And of course, join SCBWI and attend as many conferences as you can. 

A big thank you to Leslie for sharing with us today!! On November 13, she will be the guest blogger at Picture Book Month.  And please check out her website, too.  

And join me next week for some time with Lisa Wheeler, author of 30 books for children including UGLY PIE, which I will be reviewing.