Chicken Clicking : Jeanne Willis & Tony Ross

Front Cover

Chicken Clicking is a picture book from the amazing pairing of Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross. The back catalogue of these two authors is a solidly joyous thing, so I was very pleased to receive this from Andersen Press for review. It’s a joy, really. I like wallowing in picture books. I like it when they’re provacative and clever and funny. I liked this. May I tell you why and how?

Fig 1: “Once there was a little chick / Chirpy, chirpy, cheep.”
Fig 2: “The third night came and just the same / The chicken went online.” “She ordered scooters for all the sheep / and skates for all the swine”

A lot of starts in the vividly aural nature of the text. This is the story of a chicken who lives on the farm.  Her introduction (fig 1) is a delight and it’s one which practically beckons to be read out loud. I know this is something that I mention in nearly every picture book I review, but it’s vital to remember that these are books that need to live in and off the page – they need to be read before the reader can read, and read once the reader can. That’s a terribly laborious way of saying that they need to be accessible to pre, emerging and developing literates, but I’m sure you get my point.

So one night the chick sneaks into the farmer’s house and starts to play on the internet  and before long, she’s sneaking in every night (fig 3), merrily shopping online and buying things for the entire farm. But then, after she inadvertently buys all her fellow chickens a boat: “Click! She bought a boat / The other chickens sailed away / Amazed that they could float” (fig 3), the chick realises that she’s all alone on the farm.

(At this part, basically, if you’re reading and don’t do a massive “OH NO OH MY GOD”, then I’m disowning you and banning you from this blog by the way xxxx)

Fig 3: “Click! She bought a boat / The other chickens sailed away / Amazed that they could float”
Fig 4: “She put her photograph online / she gave her name and age / CLICK! Another chick appeared / upon the friendship page” & “CLICK! They started chatting / Chick had found the perfect chum / And off she went to meet her / Without telling Dad or Mum.”

The chick’s reaction to this, is to try and make a friend and she buys herself a camera and puts her photo online. When she does this, she discovers the “perfect chum” and runs off to meet her “without telling Dad or Mum” (Fig 4) (See what I mean about this text? It is audible and lovely and great).

When the chick arrives in the Wily Wood (one of the few issues I have with Chicken Clicking, is that the text is audible, but that phrase is waiting to be double entendre-ified), she waits for her friend to appear.

And he does ….  it’s a fox, sat by the tree, and he says: “That was me!” (fig 6)

God, I love books that have such a vivid and strong rhythm in them. It’s easy sometimes to get a bit leaden and forced with rhyme (you know the sort of thing – the cat sat on the mat with a bat it was flat), but I don’t think that’s something that Chicken Clicking ever runs the risk of being. It’s a book which screams to be shared and I think one that will do quite well in that, as it’ll bring a lot of extra fodder to the table (and that generosity of theme and incitement to discussion is something I remember being a theme in The Yes, a previous title I had a look at from Andersen Press).

Art wise, there’s not much to say other than just look at the clever and anarchic skill of Tony Ross in full flow. I love the fluidity of him in this book, the way he plays with frames and edges and lines that aren’t quite precise and finished, but rather rough and vibrant. The chick is never still on the page, and I particularly love how she’s placed in the palette of the book. I hope you can see it in the pages that I’ve photographed, but she’s pretty much the most vibrantly coloured animal in the book. She glows with a vivid lively yellow that dominates and pulls the eye to it whenever it occurs.

Fig 5: “She went into the Wily Wood. And waited by a tree. / “I found a friend online! she cheeped”

Another thing to note is the particularly lovely subtle use of shade and shadow in this book. It’s maybe particularly evident in fig 5, where the trees seem to almost glow with menace and the yellow of the chick, isolated in the centre of the page, is dominated by those thick Monet-esque trees full of shadows. Have a look at the back of the trees too, the way the sky peers through the branches like eyes, watching the chick.

I was a little concerned at the abruptness of the ending (fig 6), and even went so far to wonder if I’d missed a part of the story. I will however bow to the thoughts of Mollie over on Rhino Reads on this one, and simply say that I’d have loved a little more exploration of the ending (perhaps in the endpapers, which are screaming to be developed further).

But then again, maybe it’s a perfectly good ending, and maybe it’s time for a Roald Dahl-esque Revolting Rhymes re-read on my part.

And as there were too many R’s in that sentence, I’m going to finish my look at Chicken Clicking here and go off for a good sit down with a Thesaurus.

Fig 6: “The Fox said, “That was me!”

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