I’ve nearly broken my toe in stumbling over the number of new picture books stacked in my home. I do my best to keep up, but sometimes I stop and remember a totally winning newer title I’ve read that slipped through the cracks—and then ask myself why I haven’t written about it.
A Hen for Izzy Pippik is one of those books.
Read more from children's books blogger Seven Impossible Things on the beauty of memorizing poetry.
Released in March by Kids Can Press, this story from Canadian author Aubrey Davis is based on an old Talmudic tale as well as an Islamic one. (If I could wave a wand and change one thing about this book, it would be the addition of an opening or closing note about which specific tales were mined for this story.) It is illustrated by Marie Lafrance, also from Canada, and her palette is so warm and inviting—lots of soft blues and greens—that I’m telling you, you’ll just want to dive into one of these spreads and live there a while.
Shaina is an honest girl. When she finds a hen at the market one day, she determines to find out where he lives. Seeing a sign by a broken crate that says “Izzy Pippik,” yet seeing no Mr. Pippik in the vicinity, she takes the creature home, telling her parents that she’ll keep the beautiful hen until Izzy returns. And she just knows he will be back.
But time passes, and he doesn’t return. The hen, named Yevka, has chickens, and those chickens, in turn, have their own chickens. And so on. And the townspeople are hungry, too. Shaina manages to keep them from frying her new friend, but pretty soon the animals nearly take over the town. “Before long, roosters crowed from rooftops and hens nested in every nook. Hundreds of chickens flapped about the square. They toppled trashcans, fought for food and cackled from morning to night. They grew rowdier by the day, and the people’s grumbles grew with them.”
But, with more people flocking into town to see the creatures, business booms and eventually people forget their anger. It’s then that Izzy Pippik shows up in his red truck: “AOOOGAH!”
Though Shaina finds it hard to say goodbye to Yevka, she tries. She also informs Izzy that all the offspring are his, too. To Shaina’s surprise, he gives them back to her: “If they’re mine to have, they’re mine to give.” And the townspeople? They don’t want to see them go, as the chickens had brought them such good fortune after all.
Davis tells the story with abundant characterization and a brisk, satisfying pace. Lafrance extends upon this well-crafted tale, adding humor and verve. Shaina, for one, is painted as somewhat of a twin to her pet (even if she refuses to accept she’s her pet until the end), with a pointy red bow in her hair and long black braid flying, much like a feather. Both she and the hen are painted in gentle, textured shades of green. It’s a sight to see, this stubborn pair.
The rest of her artwork is textured, detailed and gracefully lined. It was rendered in pencil and colored in Photoshop. Now, I’m not an artist, so there’s a lot about makin’ art that I simply do not know, but I marvel at how Lafrance manages to pull off artwork that looks as if it were painted on, say, a wood surface (there’s a grainy, weathered look to the images) when it was done on a computer.
Ah, picture-book illustrating. It’s a whole new world.
And this is a book to be seen.
Julie Danielson (Jules) has, in her own words, conducted approximately eleventy billion interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog focused primarily on illustration and picture books.
A Hen for Izzy Pippik. Copyright 2012 by Aubrey Davis. Illustrations copyright 2012 by Marie Lafrance. Published by Kids Can Press. Image reproduced with permission of publisher.