Mary Jane Auch and Herman Auch's Chickerella
Children's book review by Steve Barancik
Sometimes "different" is good. Mary Jane Auch and Herm Auch have created a fractured fairy tale that is unique in a number of ways...all of them welcome.
Perhaps you're sometimes given pause by the plethora of books and products that seem designed with little more in mind than to persuade three year old girls to start planning their weddings.
Then Chickerella will please you. This avian Cinderella doesn't want to marry the prince; she wants to go into business with him.
You already know the basics. Chickerella's widowed dad makes a poor marital choice and disappears shortly from the scene, leaving his dear daughter in the "care" of a wicked step-hen and two mean step-chickens.
She accepts her lot and does what she's told, while in her few spare moments indulging a flair for fashion design. It's right about now that she and the stepcluckers hear that the prince is throwing a party for all the fair and unmarried ladies of the land.
The Fowl Ball.
Long story short, Chickerella works day and night outfitting the evil ones for the big event. Sure, she'd like to go, but it doesn't seem to be in the cards. That is, until our heroine's Fairy Goosemother appears.
A refreshing moment here that you won't find in the original: Goosemother asks Chickerella why she puts up with her stepmother's abuse. The girl says that when her father gets back, he'll put things back in order. Fairy Goosemother says,
Don't wait for someone else to fix things, dearie. You take charge.
So our heroine gets the gown and goes to the ball and dances with the prince...and enjoys all the fashion. It's practially a dream. But then the clock strikes midnight, her transportation disappears...
And she lays a glass egg.
(I may have failed to mention the glass eggs. Not to worry, Chickerella's glass eggs are depicted as a result of her meager diet, not an illicit barnyard romance. In fact, scientifically, the eggs we eat are not fertile and not a result of sex!)
Of course, the prince grabs his dance partner's see-through leave-behind and uses it to track her down. (Maybe it's best we not overthink this.) And when he finds her...
It's not romance he wants. You see, a bride is what his mom, the queen, wanted for him. But the truth is, our prince is not ready to take a bride. He just loved Chickerella's sense of fashion.
So, yes, the two of them go into business - along with the Fairy Goosemother, who has a flair for design herself - and instead of settling down to have babies they manage to have a fashion show in New York...I mean, New Yolk.
The end. (Of the book, not the review!)
No marriage. No chicks. Just accomplishment. It's the age-appropriate Cinderella message that parents have been waiting for, if you ask me.
The language of the book is delightfully punny. Chickerella's stepsisters are named Ovumelda and Cholestra. The fashion show is an "eggstravaganza."
But most striking is the artwork. Author Mary Jane Auch constructs posable chicken mannequins with clay and covers them with feathers. Their elaborate and colorful outfits are each one of a kind and their faces are expressive. Husband Herman Auch constructs elaborate sets, photographs the scenes and manipulates them on the computer.
The results are playful and original. You and your child will enjoy looking at the pictures closely and trying to figure out how they were assembled.
(By the way, this is not Mary Jane Auch's only poultry parody. Far from it!)
In so many ways, the book is a breath of fresh air, with illustrations that look like no other book, and an ending that breaks with the original fairy tale's good-girls-get-to-marry-princes ending.
Want the "good girl" lesson of Cinderella without the marital outcome? Chickerella is the book for you.
Read more of Steve's reviews.
Best Children's Books - Find, Read or Write home page.