Amanda McInerney (text), and Connah Brecon (illustrator), The Book Chook, Scholastic Australia, March 2019, 24 pp., RRP $24.99 (hbk), ISBN 9781742994987
Cross Woody Allen with Henny Penny, and what do you get? The Book Chook.
Full of existential angst, laughs and comic absurdities, this humorous story follows the identity crisis of McInerney’s introspective chicken character, Ray. The book offers lots of laughs, especially when read aloud.
The bright egg-yolk yellow of the cover indicates from the start that this will be a fun romp through the mind of a chicken who discovers that he is ”just a drawing”.
Ray’s supportive friend Janine offers counsel, pointing out: “Ray, you drink lattes. You’re wearing a vest. We’re talking. Seriously, you never guessed?”
Brecon’s cartoonish drawings are funny and softly coloured. The rhyming text is humorous and lively. Throughout, McInerney satirises the trend for anthropomorphism in children’s literature. This is a book that can be read on many levels. Readers are invited to “shout Ray out” – prompting a performative reading like a pantomime villain hiding in full view of the audience.
In the end, when his attempts to escape the page all fail, Ray comes to terms with his book-bound existence. “Yes . . .Book-birds are a special breed. We can talk and we can read.”
Janine has the last word: it is better to be an abstraction than a real chicken who is actually eaten.
Metafiction in picture books? Times have changed.
Reviewed by Julie Thorndyke