Book 3: Rosie's Walk by Pat Hutchins (1968)
Thirty-one words. That's it. Just thirty-one words to tell this hilarious story. And, you would think it would take no time at all to read it as a result. Not so. When I read this to groups of young kids (or simply one-on-one) it takes well over at least ten minutes. Why? Because of the illustrations. That is both how and where this story is is really told. The words are almost unnecessary.
At first glance, the pictures seem simplistic, but upon closer examination are quite sophisticated. This sophistication is not lost on or beyond the reach of the toddler (and older) set. Hutchins keeps the color palette simple, sticking with soft yellows, reds, browns, greens, and black outlines for definition...along with plenty of white space on the page. Rosie may be on a walk around the barnyard before dinner, but what she doesn't know (and the reader does) is that she is being followed by a fox.
What reads as a such an uncomplicated thing, "Rosie the hen went for a walk across the yard," is so much more. As Rosie leaves the hen house, she is completely unaware of Fox hiding beneath it and then following her across the yard. As he leaps to pounce on her, he lands on a yard rake and is whacked in the face. The humor isn't missed by kids and is the reason Rosie's Walk is not a story to be read quickly. They pour over the pictures, noting such minute items as a snail in the grass, or a string wrapped around Rosie's ankle that--unbeknown to her of course--causes a sack of flour to tear and spill on Fox as she walks past his latest hiding place.
Rosie's adventure is reminiscent of the antics between Wiley E. Coyote and Road Runner. No matter how hard Fox tries to catch Rosie, some unfortunate mishap occurs to him. What makes this story such a classic and amazing work is that none of Fox's mishaps are even remotely hinted at in the text. Hutchins' illustrations tell Fox's tale and it is that which captures a young child's attention.
Hutchins' technique of using the illustrations to tell a story parallel (or separate) to that of the text is not new. Randolph Caldecott, considered the "founder" of children's book illustration, employed this idea in his works. For example, in his Diverting History of John Gilpin, there is much more going on in the pictures than the text would have a reader believe. Hidden humor, an extra story going on "behind the scenes" etc. are just a few mechanisms that make an appearance the story. So, this begs the question, how is it Rosie's Walk did not win the Caldecott Award?
Historical Note: Randolph Caldecott, born in Chester, England in 1846, taught himself to sketch and paint. His illustration break came when a publisher lost his principal illustrator, Walter Crane. The first two books Caldecott worked on were immediate successes and he would go on to not only illustrate other writer's works, but also write and illustrate his own. Sadly, he passed away at the age of 39 in St. Augustine, Florida. There is a headstone marking his grave in St. Augustine. In 1938, the American Library Association awarded the first medal bearing his name to Animals of the Bible, illustrated by Dorothy Lathrop. The award is given each year to the book with the best illustrations published in the preceding year. For example, the 2011 award will be given to the book with the best illustrations published in 2010. Also, the artist must be a United States resident and the pictures must embody the illustration ideas of Caldecott himself. For more information on Caldecott, visit http://www.randolphcaldecott.org.uk/. Visit the American Library Association's web site at www.ala.org for award criteria and a complete list of Caldecott Award winners and honorees.