'Chicken Big' A Kids Book That Cries Wolf

Host Scott Simon speaks with Weekend Edition's ambassador to the world of children's literature, Daniel Pinkwater, about Chicken Big, by Keith Graves. Chicken Big is, of course, a play on the traditional fairy tale about the chicken who cries "The sky is falling" one too many times.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Usually, we go to our friend Daniel Pinkwater for a sage analysis of children's books. Observations like this...

Mr. DANIEL PINKWATER (Author): Few cats can read. But I submit, this is a book a cat might enjoy, so read it to your cat.

SIMON: This time, though, we're going to call on Daniel's other, perhaps lesser known, area of specialization: Gallus domesticus. For lay people among us, that's...

(Soundbite of chicken)

SIMON: ...chickens. A chicken expertise was particularly evident the last time that we spoke with Daniel.

Mr. PINKWATER: In wooden crates are chickens. The chickens are afraid.

SIMON: The book we're going to talk about is "Chicken Big," by Keith Graves.

Daniel Pinkwater, our ambassador to the world of children's literature - and chicken expert to the world - joins us from his home in upstate New York.

Daniel, thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. PINKWATER: Chicken inspector, Scott.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PINKWATER: I have a brief statement to read.

SIMON: Yes.

Mr. PINKWATER: One of the earliest forms of children's literature was the moral fable or cautionary tale. These were meant to educate so children would steer clear of witches, not trust wolves - or for that matter, grandmothers with long, hairy noses and bad breath - not eat the porridge or sleep in the beds of bears they did not know, etc.

Scott, listeners may remember we presented a chicken-related book last time.

SIMON: Yes.

Mr. PINKWATER: I have another work of chick lit, this time...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PINKWATER: ...a retelling of the classic "Chicken Little." It is a cautionary tale, in a way. In this story, the chickens are quick to believe one stupid thing after another. I would say this makes it a fable for our time.

SIMON: All right.

Mr. PINKWATER: All right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Now, the author of this book is Keith Graves, who is described on the flap as professor emeritus at the Chicken School in Austin, Texas.

Mr. PINKWATER: The prestigious Chicken School in Austin, Texas.

SIMON: Well, I've spent a little time in Austin and I - I mean, the University of Texas is there, and lots of good food and good music and I - the Driscoll, and great - the Texas Book Festival, but I have never seen the Chicken School.

Mr. PINKWATER: You'll have to go back, Scott.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: All right.

Mr. PINKWATER: Well, let's read the thing.

SIMON: Why not?

Mr. PINKWATER: Please begin.

SIMON: All right. On a teeny little farm, in an itty bitty coop, a very small hen laid a big, humongous egg.

(Soundbite of croaking noise)

Mr. PINKWATER: The egg began to shake. The egg began to quake. Out popped a big, humongous chick.

SIMON: What is it? crowed the little rooster.

Mr. PINKWATER: It's big, clucked the small chicken. It's enormous, clucked the smaller chicken. It's an elephant, peeped the smallest chicken. She was not the sharpest beak in the flock.

SIMON: He's too big to stay in our itty bitty coop, crowed the little rooster. Much, much too big, clucked the small chicken. He'll break the floor, clucked the smaller chicken.

Mr. PINKWATER: Indoor elephants are dangerous.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Squawked the smallest chicken.

Mr. PINKWATER: I don't feel like an elephant, thought the big chick.

SIMON: I, I wish I were a chicken. The next day, an acorn fell and conked the smallest chicken on the head.

Mr. PINKWATER: The sky is falling...

SIMON: ...she peeped.

Mr. PINKWATER: Run for your lives.

(Soundbite of chicken noise)

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Forgive me. A parenthetical - you do the best chicken noises, Daniel.

Mr. PINKWATER: That's not me. I have a trained chicken with me, I hire for the day.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Oh my gosh.

Mr. PINKWATER: I spare no expense.

SIMON: All right. So the chickens ran for their lives. Don't worry, said the big, humongous chick. It's only an acorn. They're actually quite tasty.

Mr. PINKWATER: I don't think elephants eat acorns, said the little rooster. I heard they only eat popcorn, clucked the small chicken. Maybe he's not an elephant, clucked the smaller chicken. The smallest chicken looked closely at the big, humongous chick. Aw, my mistake, she peeped. He must be a squirrel.

SIMON: A squirrel? thought the big, humongous chick. These are not bright chickens.

Mr. PINKWATER: After a while, a chilly wind began to blow. Someone has put the world in the refrigerator, peeped the smallest chicken. We're all going to freeze. Run for your lives.

SIMON: But they didn't get far.

(Soundbite of chicken noises)

SIMON: Don't panic, said the big, humongous chick. Show me the North Wind. Stand behind me, and I will protect you. The chickens all felt much better. I'm all warm and comfy now, clucked the smaller chicken.

Mr. PINKWATER: Only one thing makes me feel this way...

SIMON: ...peeped the smallest chicken.

Mr. PINKWATER: Plainly, this fellow is a sweater.

SIMON: This is getting ridiculous, thought the big, humongous chick.

Mr. PINKWATER: At nap time, the little chickens returned to the coop and found all their eggs were gone.

SIMON: We've been robbed, crowed the little rooster.

Mr. PINKWATER: By an egg burglar, clucked the small chicken.

SIMON: Woe is me, clucked the smaller chicken.

Mr. PINKWATER: Woe is me too, peeped the smallest chicken.

SIMON: The chickens all began to boo hoo-hoo.

Mr. PINKWATER: Boo-hoo-hoo. But the big, humongous chick saw a sneaky fox carrying the eggs into his den a mile away.

SIMON: Oh, no, you don't.

Mr. PINKWATER: With three giant hop, hop, hops, the big, humongous chick caught up to the fox just as he was about to make himself a scrambled egg supper.

SIMON: Yikes, said the fox.

Mr. PINKWATER: Said the fox.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: A hippopotamus. I don't think so...

Mr. PINKWATER: ...said the big, humongous chick.

SIMON: Well, you are a naughty thief.

Mr. PINKWATER: The frightened fox ran away with his tail between his legs, having lost all interest in poultry.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: In no time, the big chick was stomping back to the coop with the missing eggs. Our babies, cried the happy little chickens.

Mr. PINKWATER: Our hero...

SIMON: ...they all clucked. Yay!

Mr. PINKWATER: Yay!

(Soundbite of chicken noises)

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PINKWATER: I knew it all along, crowed the little rooster. He's no elephant.

SIMON: He's definitely not a squirrel, clucked the small chicken.

Mr. PINKWATER: He couldn't be a sweater...

SIMON: ...peeped the smallest chicken.

Mr. PINKWATER: Only one thing could be so smart, so kind, so warm and so brave. Clearly, he's a cow.

SIMON: No, no...

Mr. PINKWATER: No, no, he's a chicken.

SIMON: He's a chicken. He's a chicken.

Mr. PINKWATER: A chicken.

SIMON: The big, humongous chick was thrilled to find out that he was a chicken after all. Oh, thank goodness, he said. Now, I can move back into the coop.

Mr. PINKWATER: Actually, it's a rather small coop.

SIMON: Crowed the little rooster.

Mr. PINKWATER: Crowed the little rooster. It's itty-bitty...

SIMON: ...clucked the small chicken.

Mr. PINKWATER: Teensy-weensy...

SIMON: ....clucked the smaller chicken.

Mr. PINKWATER: But we'll make room...

SIMON: ...peeped the smallest chicken. He still sounds like an elephant.

(Soundbite of snorting)

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PINKWATER: A magnificent work.

SIMON: Like all fine literature.

Mr. PINKWATER: A real exploration of the mentality of chickens.

SIMON: The illustrations here are delightful...

Mr. PINKWATER: They are delightful and in fact, my - one of my criteria - that no one can know until they see the books - is, no book is brought to you at this program if I don't like the art. And my taste is, as chickens say, impeccable.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Yes. Well, a kindred spirit indeed, as we say...

Mr. PINKWATER: I would say so.

SIMON: ...as they say in the chicken world.

Mr. PINKWATER: Yes.

SIMON: The book is "Chicken Big." It's written and illustrated by Keith Graves. Daniel Pinkwater is the author of many fine books for children and for adults, and of course a renowned international fowl expert. His latest study on the matter is the book "Beautiful Yetta."

Daniel, thanks for speaking with us.

(Soundbite of chicken noises)

(Soundbite of song, "Chicken")

Unidentified People: (Singing) C, that's the way to begin. H, that is the next letter in. I, that is the third. C, that's the season to the bird. K, that's filling in. E, I'm getting near the end. C-H-I-C-K-E-N - that is the way to spell chicken.

SIMON: Our music library is working overtime this morning.

(Soundbite of laughter)

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