Cronin, Doreen ?-
Cronin, Doreen ?-INTRODUCTION
(Full name Doreen A. Cronin) American author of picture books.
The following entry presents an overview of Cronin’s career through 2008. For further information on her life and career, see CLR, Volume 105.
Lawyer-turned-author Cronin is the recipient of numerous honors and awards for her best-selling children’s picture books. Her debut children’s book Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type (2000), illustrated by Betsy Lewin, was named a 2000 Caldecott Medal Honor Book. This whimsical story of farm animals who go on strike, proclaiming their demands to Farmer Brown in typewritten notes, was followed by Giggle, Giggle, Quack (2002), in which the animals make the most of Farmer’s Brown’s week-long vacation. Cronin has been widely praised for her cunning animal protagonists and sense of playfulness in creating laugh-out-loud stories for young readers. Her characteristic absurdist slant is prominently featured in her humorous take on the vagaries of modern politics in Duck for President (2004) and in her series of fictional picture book diaries, narrated from the unusual perspectives of some of the animal kingdom’s most underappreciated creatures, which began with Diary of a Worm (2003).
Cronin was born in Queens, New York, the daughter of a police officer, and was raised on Long Island. She graduated from Pennsylvania State University in 1988 with a B.A. in journalism and went on to work in the publishing industry. Pursuing post-graduate study, Cronin earned a J.D. in 1998 from St. John’s Law School, where she met her husband, also a lawyer. She worked for several years as an attorney in New York City, specializing in commercial and civil litigation and arbitration with insurance, contracts, and torts. Cronin had begun writing children’s stories years earlier, but was unable to find publishers who would accept them. In a 2003 BookSense interview, Cronin remarked, “Like most writers, it took me many years and hundreds of rejection letters before I was fortunate enough to be published.” Click, Clack, Moo, her first published work, was released in 2000 to largely positive reviews. After receiving the Caldecott Honor Award, Cronin stopped working as an attorney and devoted herself to writing children’s books full time. Among Cronin’s many awards and accolades, Click, Clack, Moo was honored on the 2000 School Library Journal Best Books list and the 2001 Notable Books for Children list of the American Library Association. It was also awarded the 2001 ABC Children’s Booksellers Choices Award in addition to being named a 2000 Caldecott Medal Honor Book. Giggle, Giggle, Quack was honored on the 2002 Children’s Literature Choice list, the 2002 Publisher’s Weekly Best Children’s Books list, and the 2002 School Library Journal Best Books list. Diary of a Worm was honored on the 2003 School Library Journal Best Books list. It also won the 2003 Parent’s Choice Silver Award for Picture Book as well as the 2004 International Reading Association’s Children’s Choice award. Duck for President was named one of the New York Times Best Illustrated Books for 2004. Additionally, Diary of a Spider (2005) was recognized as a BookSense Honor Book and a Publishers Weekly Best Book.
In Click, Clack, Moo, Farmer Brown’s cows discover an old manual typewriter in the barn one day and decide to write the farmer a note demanding electric blankets to keep them warm on winter nights. Farmer Brown realizes that something unusual is going on when he hears sounds of “click, clack, moo” coming from the barn. After he ignores their simply stated request, the cows go on strike. Inspired by their example, the chickens then compose a similar note demanding electric blankets and also go on strike when their request is denied. The clever Duck serves as a mediator between the parties, eventually negotiating a deal whereby the cows and chickens will give Farmer Brown the typewriter in exchange for electric blankets. However, after complying with this agreement, Farmer Brown receives a note from the ducks, typed with the cows’ typewriter, demanding a diving board. Giggle, Giggle, Quack returns to the barnyard, where Farmer Brown is preparing to go away on a vacation. Leaving his brother Bob in charge of the farm, Farmer Brown assures Bob, “I wrote everything down for you. Just follow my instructions and everything will be fine.” The Duck, who discovers a pencil lying in the dirt, proceeds to compose a series of notes instructing Bob on how to care for the farm, with such demands as ordering hot pizza for the animals, giving the pigs a bubble bath then drying them off with the “good” monogrammed towels, and making popcorn for the cows to eat while they sit in the living room watching a movie. The joke is on Bob and Farmer Brown, and the animals barely stifle their giggles and smirks—letting out a “giggle, giggle, cluck,” “giggle, giggle, oink,” or “giggle, giggle, moo,” as each request is diligently honored. Cronin’s first work with illustrator Harry Bliss, Diary of a Worm, chronicles the day-to-day activities of a young worm from April 10 to August 1, following the worm as he goes to school, attends a dance, is nearly stepped on by a child playing hopscotch, plays with his friend Spider, eats dinner with his family, and contemplates the significance of his life. The ending pages include a worm family album of snapshots, depicting such events as their vacation on Compost Island.
Duck for President returns once again to Farmer Brown’s barnyard, where Duck decides to run an election in order to determine who will be in charge of the farm. After he wins the election, Duck sets his sights on the higher office of governor. Once he is governor, Duck decides to go all the way to the White House and finds himself elected President. 2005 witnessed the publication of three new works from Cronin—Click, Clack, Quackity-Quack: An Alphabetical Adventure, illustrated by Betsy Lewin, Diary of a Spider, illustrated by Harry Bliss, and Wiggle, illustrated by Scott Menchin. While Click, Clack, Quackity-Quack and Diary of a Spider continued two of Cronin’s previous series, Wiggle follows a dog who encourages young readers to squirm along with him as he performs a variety of energetic maneuvers. This picture book was followed up in 2007 with the similarly themed Bounce. Cronin returned to her diary format for one more book, 2007’s Diary of a Fly, and revisited her best-known barnyard characters in three additional volumes, including Click, Clack, Splish, Splash: A Counting Adventure (2006), Dooby Dooby Moo (2006)—a story of the farmland creatures trying to win a talent show—and Thump, Quack, Moo: A Whacky Adventure (2008).
Cronin has been widely praised for her cleverness in creating amusingly quirky stories describing the antics of plucky, mischievous animal characters. Click, Clack, Moo has been lauded for its good humor, shrewd animal protagonists, and positive treatment of labor relations. Critics have further complimented Cronin’s good-natured depiction of acts of mischief familiar to children in Giggle, Giggle, Quack. Diary of a Worm has been commended for its inventive use of the diary motif and portrayal of an amiable young worm who describes experiences most children can relate to. Some critics have also noted Cronin’s subtle environmental message in portraying life from the perspective of an earthworm. However, reviews of Cronin’s third picture book set in Farmer Brown’s barnyard, Duck for President, have been largely mixed. Many critics have found the Duck character endearing, noting that his political ambitions familiarize children with basic elements of electoral politics. Others, however, have found Duck for President to be less humorous and less suited to young readers than Cronin’s previous works. Regarding her more recent work, the New York Times has praised the educational content of Click, Clack, Quackity-Quack: An Alphabetical Adventure, with reviewer Emily Jenkins suggesting that, “Cronin rises to the challenge of the form as she gently manipulates the alphabet into a narrative.” Susan Dove Lempke has similarly complimented Wiggle, asserting that young readers will “find wiggling along irresistible; the infectious humor will make them laugh and encourage them to pay attention to the comic pictures.”
Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type [illustrations by Betsy Lewin] (picture book) 2000
Giggle, Giggle, Quack [illustrations by Betsy Lewin] (picture book) 2002
Diary of a Worm [illustrations by Harry Bliss] (picture book) 2003
Duck for President [illustrations by Betsy Lewin] (picture book) 2004
Click, Clack, Quackity-Quack: An Alphabetical Adventure [illustrations by Betsy Lewin] (picture book) 2005
Diary of a Spider [illustrations by Harry Bliss] (picture book) 2005
Wiggle [illustrations by Scott Menchin] (picture book) 2005
Click, Clack, Splish, Splash: A Counting Adventure [illustrations by Betsy Lewin] (picture book) 2006
Dooby Dooby Moo [illustrations by Betsy Lewin] (picture book) 2006
Bounce [illustrations by Scott Menchin] (picture book) 2007
Diary of a Fly [illustrations by Harry Bliss] (picture book) 2007
Thump, Quack, Moo: A Whacky Adventure [illustrations by Betsy Lewin] (picture book) 2008
Kimberly Jack (essay date winter 2005)
SOURCE: Jack, Kimberly. “Trouble in the Farm Yard: Labor Relations and Politics in Doreen Cronin’s Duck Books.” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 30, no. 4 (winter 2005): 409-25.
[In the following essay, Jack suggests that Cronin’s series of farmyard picture books—an imprint that began with 2000’s Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type—offers young readers a juvenile-oriented presentation of labor activism.]
In Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type (2000), Giggle, Giggle, Quack (2002), and Duck for President (2004), author Doreen Cronin and illustrator Betsy Lewin rewrite the farmyard as a site of labor activism and political action. The first two works, Click, Clack, Moo and Giggle, Giggle, Quack, recast farm animals as agricultural workers utilizing their collective voice to gain benefits from the farm’s management. Duck for President uses characters established in the earlier books in an ever-expanding depiction of the American political arena. Although Betsy Lewin’s illustrations avoid total anthropomor-phization of the farm animals, Cronin’s text situates the animals as laborers who manipulate various implements of writing to communicate and negotiate with the farm’s human management in the form of Farmer Brown and his brother Bob.
Diverse groups and individuals have seized upon this dynamic in their efforts to design educational programs. They cite Cronin’s books as resources for educating children about labor relations and socialism, economics and blackmail, literacy and disenfranchisement, as well as other topics. But such attempts raise questions about the degree to which the books can be used as primers. To what extent do they effectively introduce concepts of literacy, labor dynamics, and the electoral process? Are the goals and practices of the animals in the books positive models of behavior to offer to children? Or should the books be read as satire, serving to convince citizens, at the earliest age, that politicians and union activists seek only selfish luxury? How do we determine the dividing line between parody and satire in the three works? And furthermore, how does our conception of the books’ audience influence our readings and uses of them? To what extent does adult readers’ privileged knowledge of American culture and history encourage an intertextual reading of the books, thereby influencing the “lessons” gleaned from the texts by parents and educators?
The Duck Books
A brief summary of the Duck books’ production attests to the books’ appeal and provides some insight into why the books have been perceived as both politically radical and politically conservative. Click, Clack, Moo was written by Doreen Cronin in memory of her late father, a member of the policemen’s union. Betsy Lewin was called in to illustrate once the text had been accepted for publication (Castellitto). Daniel Pinkwater read the book on NPR’s Weekend Edition, and it later received the Caldecott Honor. Cronin and Lewin, both New York residents, met after the book became popular and chose to collaborate on Giggle, Giggle, Quack (2002), Duck for President (2004), and their recent alphabet book, Click, Clack, Quackity-Quack (2005).1
In Click, Clack, Moo ’s relatively simple plot, Farmer Brown’s cows find an old typewriter in the barn and use it to communicate a request for electric blankets. When Farmer Brown refuses, the cows withhold milk and persuade the hens to join them on strike. With the aid of a “neutral party,” Duck, Farmer Brown eventually agrees to trade the electric blankets for the typewriter. The cows accept the blankets and turn over the typewriter, but Duck absconds with the machine and uses it to demand a diving board for the pond.
In Giggle, Giggle, Quack Farmer Brown goes on vacation, leaving his brother, Bob, in charge. Farmer Brown writes up detailed instructions on running the farm, but Duck substitutes his own notes. Bob has pizza delivered for the animals, bathes the pigs in Farmer Brown’s bubble bath, and is popping popcorn for “movie night” when Farmer Brown calls home, ending the deception.
Duck for President depicts Duck’s successive campaigns for farm manager, governor, and president. In each instance he envisions the election as a way to avoid work. The books detail various stops on the campaign trail, each incumbent’s demand for a recount, and Duck’s realization that farm managers, governors, and presidents have to do more work than was required back on the farm. Duck eventually leaves the country in the vice-president’s hands and returns to the farm to write his autobiography.
Reception and Pedagogical Applications
Click, Clack, Moo, Duck for President, and, to a lesser extent, Giggle, Giggle, Quack have been lauded as pedagogical resources by schools, libraries, and social programs. The Duck books receive praise because they utilize sophisticated vocabulary such as “ultimatum” and “neutral party”; they illustrate procedures of conflict resolution, collective bargaining, and voter registration; and they address issues such as literacy and disenfranchisement of voters. A brief overview of these pedagogical approaches establishes the range of potential instructional purposes to which the books have been put.
In bibliographies with pedagogical aims, the Duck books emerge as radically Marxist (on one end of the spectrum) or as merely sympathetic to farm life (on the other). Click, Clack, Moo is included in the Unionist’s unannotated list of recommended readings, appearing alongside Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez by Kathleen Krul and Yuyi Morales, Martin Luther King Jr. and the March on Washington by Frances E. Ruffin and Stephen Marchesi, and Mother Jones: Fierce Fighter for Worker’s Rights by Judith Pinkerton Josephson. The Illinois Farm Bureau recommends donating both Click, Clack, Moo and Giggle, Giggle, Quack to schools and libraries “to give children and adults the opportunity to learn about agriculture and farm life.” Yana Rodgers, associate professor of women’s and gender studies at Rutgers University, lists Click, Clack, Moo in her “Bibliography of Children’s Books that Cover Economics Concepts.” The Marxist Internet Archive includes Click, Clack, Moo in its bibliography of “Marxism and Art in Children’s Literature,” while the Asheville Global Report cites it in a list of books with the potential to introduce “antiauthoritarianism, political engagement, gender-role-bending, or other topics of lasting importance” (Syntax and Radym). The Harris County Public Library in Texas includes Duck for President in a list of books that “provide a detailed and wide-ranging understanding of our electoral process and its effects o our government, society, and day-to-day lives” (“Election-Related Books for Young People 2004”). The California Federation of Teachers, a group “formed to assist teachers in reaching students with information about the history and current role of the labor movement in American society,” recommends Click, Clack, Moo for elementary classrooms. And the spring 2004 issue of Canada’s Labour Studies Bulletin included Cronin’s books in their “Bibliography of Fiction and Non-Fiction Books about Labour, Strikes and Politics” (Patel 2).
Reviewers of the books interpret them as supporting labor, empowering children, or even advocating blackmail. Jeff Burman, in reviewing Click, Clack, Moo for the Motion Picture Editor’s Guild Magazine, describes it as a story book about labor relations “that poses a problem, offers a solution, and does it with wit and charm.” A reviewer identified by the user name “ErgoPropterHoc” credits the NPR reading of Click, Clack, Moo for an interpretation in which “the animals are metaphors for children, generally powerless in a world of farmers (adults),” who can “break out of the powerlessness of their existence by gaining the strength of literacy.” However, not all of the reviews are positive or serious. An E-pinions reviewer suggests as the first book’s moral that “not everyone and everything in life is to be trusted and that blackmail and ultimatums are effective” (“Cows That Type”).
Lesson plans generally elaborate on the process of identifying and negotiating benefits but also incorporate other issues. The Trumpet Club suggests asking kids to imagine what household pets might say if they could communicate with humans, what they and their pets might wish to change at home, and arguments they might use to support such requests. My own college writing students contrasted Click, Clack, Moo with The Cry for Justice: An Anthology of the Literature of Social Protest, edited by Upton Sinclair, prompting a heated discussion on the generational, racial, and economic divide in defining “necessities” and “luxuries.” Nancy Polette uses Click, Clack, Moo to introduce six “steps in reaching an agreement”: (1) decide on your goal, (2) plan your strategy, (3) outline your tactics, (4) find a neutral party to help, (5) make proposals, and (6) reach an agreement. And the Oyster Bilingual Elementary School used Click, Clack, Moo to introduce “the sophisticated issue of equity in the workplace” before reading Si, Se Puede! Yes, We Can! and visiting the AFL-CIO headquarters (“Equity in the Classroom”). But Click, Clack, Moo is also used to teach economics and advertising through the use of a mock farm stand exercise (“Fun Things to Do”), and to encourage community service such as collecting money for electric blankets and food for the needy (“Guest at Your Table”). Mission High School instructors read Duck for President in preparation for a mock-election (McLaughlin et al.). My students examined it alongside presidential election coverage in American and British media, discussing the role of “political-entertainment,” or “poli-tainment,” in the American electoral process.
Adult readers cite Cronin’ books as resources for educating children about topics as diverse as labor relations, Marxism, economics, and the electoral process. Each of these issues is, to some extent, identifiable in Click, Clack, Moo, Giggle, Giggle, Quack, and Duck for President. But parents and educators are also influenced by their privileged recognition of the books’ intertextuality—references that might be treated “as tests of the reader’s knowledge” of other texts and of American culture and history (Moebius 147).
Intertextuality and Audience
The majority of the pedagogical applications of Click, Clack, Moo, Giggle, Giggle, Quack, and Duck for President depend upon the readers’ ability to identify intertextual links between these three books, other texts, and American history and culture. Although Cronin and Lewin make a number of explicit allusions, especially in the third book, many of the associations are implied by the phrasing or illustrations in the text, or by the reader’s own associations. Click, Clack, Moo and, to a lesser extent, Giggle, Giggle, Quack contain explicit references to unionization and labor relations, while Duck for President rewrites a number of campaign slogans, presidential speeches, and campaign stunts. To gauge the books’ political engagement, we might examine their explicit and implicit intertextual connections.
All three books include explicit references to labor and labor relations, although Click, Clack, Moo contains the majority of them. This first book utilizes sophisticated terminology such as “strike,” “ultimatum,” and “neutral party.” It also depicts a pattern in which the cows identify unsatisfactory living/working conditions, present their grievance and propose a solution in writing, threaten a work stoppage, recruit affiliated workers to support their work stoppage, and negotiate a compromise through a neutral party. This pattern reflects the process by which the “collective voice” of union workers emerges “at the negotiating level as threatened or actual strikes or boycotts in the quest for more favorable employment terms” or “at the workplace level as grievances challenging managerial interpretations of existing employment terms” (Feuille 17). As such, the book may justly be read as the gentlest labor relations manual” in print (Hartman). Ironically, Doreen Cronin did not recognize the potential “union” implications of her text until after it was written. In an interview she stated: “I thought I’d written a book about education and the power of writing. And then I realized, ‘Oh my God, it is about unions’” (Hartman).2
Click, Clack, Moo is also about challenging the assumption that workers are merely producers. When Farmer Brown types his response to the animals’ strike, he draws upon the argument that workers are suited to particular forms of labor by birth (20-21). He reminds them that they “are cows and hens,” implying that their sole purpose is to provide him with the milk and eggs that he demands. In some ways Farmer Brown’s assumption echoes Charles Kingsley’s nineteenth century description of fictional English villagers. In Kingsley’s “Yeast” a gamekeeper explains the position of villagers to a university man who wishes the villagers to improve themselves: “they’ve no time to think; they’re born to be machines, and machines they must be; and I think… it God mercy that they daren’t think. It’s God’s mercy that they don’t feel” (80). The gamekeeper and Farmer Brown assume that producers at the lowest levels, whether animals or villagers, are born to produce and are merely hindered in their labors by thoughts or feelings. The collective action of the cows and hens forces Farmer Brown to acknowledge the animals’ complaint and to improve their living conditions; however, the compromise is fundamentally flawed. In order to benefit from exercising their collective voice, the cows must relinquish the instrument of that voice, the typewriter (27). As with much historical union action, the cows’ compromise addresses the immediate concern but does not eliminate the underlying assumption that they exist to produce.
The illustrations developed by Betsy Lewin also enhance associations with American labor rights activism. For example, the solid line of hens stretched across the bottom of pages 16 and 17 epitomize the strike line. The hens glare their defiance directly out at the reader, who is placed in the subject position of Farmer Brown. The hens on the right side are grouped around an overturned milking stool and three upturned pails, united in their dissent. One hen holds a note in her beak, containing these terse lines: “Closed. No milk. No eggs.” The hens do not march, chant, or carry signs, but their stance is reminiscent of historical images of picket lines. In photographs of the 1903 strike in Philadelphia, for instance, the Kensington mill children are similarly arrayed—an unruly line confronting the adult reporters (Bartoletti 109). Another similar image is the December 1965 photograph of Walter Reuther, president of the United Auto Workers, showing solidarity with Cesar Chavez and the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee on the strike line in Delano, California (Ferris and Sandoval 115). The hens’ note and the overturned milking equipment replace the standard signs, but in all three images a solid line of workers stand defiant, eyes gazing squarely outward.
Lewin’s deft use of color, shadow, and position further conveys the power dynamics between the animal unions and Farmer Brown. The cows’ initial request for electric blankets (8-9) comes from what Moebius calls “the place of power and strength” in the center of the right page (154). The white rectangle of their note stands out in stark contrast to the vertically-lined red of the barn wall, further indicating its importance. But the shadow of Farmer Brown’s face cuts across the note from his position on the left page, problematizing the note’s position and overshadowing its effectiveness. Color and shadow are also used to convey Farmer Brown’s response to the cows’ strike (10-11). Three shadowed cows peer out from behind the barn door, their gazes drawing the view-er’s attention to the shadow of a leaping, fist-pumping Farmer Brown splashed across the wall and the second note. The red color of the barn, the outline of fists, and the radiating mass of shadow that marks Farmer Brown’s straw hat provide the distinct impression of Farmer Brown’s fury at the cows’ presumption.3 The cows display their concern over this response in their subordinate positions, half-concealed in the darkness behind the open door.
The two parties’ respective bargaining positions shift, however, when the hens join the strike (14-15). Four hens peer to the right past a cow, whose hindquarters fill the majority of the right-hand page. The block created by the cow’s jutting hip bones and legs is positioned only slightly to the left of the page’s center, partially obscuring the smaller yellow rectangle of the open barn door in the bottom right corner. From this position of risk, the silhouetted figure of Farmer Brown peers into the darkened interior of the barn.4 Farmer Brown can no longer dictate the terms of his animals’ production.
Lewin’s illustrations also amplify our impressions of Duck as the “neutral party” (22-23) and the anticipation surrounding the cows’ “emergency meeting” (24-25). Duck first appears in the center of page 22 as a small figure marching up the hill toward the barn, bringing Farmer Brown’s “ultimatum” to the cows. The composition of the barn, fence, hill, and path duplicate pages 4-5 and 6-7, but the bleaker colors on pages 22-23 indicate that the serenity of the farm has been compromised. Duck and the note—the only white objects on the page—occupy the place of power and strength, but the duck’s size, movement away from the reader, and placement in the distance counter these earlier indications of his importance.5 Pages 24-25 continue this color trend by presenting the tension surrounding these negotiations among the rest of the farm community. A donkey, a pig, a cat, a dog, and a sheep fill the borders of the pages, clustering around and gazing toward a chain and padlock, representing the now sealed door of the barn. The dark green-gray of the pages is unrelieved by borders, thresholds, or notes, forcing the reader to share the perspective of the excluded animals. The composition is reminiscent of last-minute negotiations as covered on the evening news. The curious animals crowd around the sealed door, appearing like a mob of television reporters broadcasting live as they await late-night decisions.
A search for similarly explicit references to labor relations in Giggle, Giggle, Quack yields few results, but, when read in tandem with its precursor, this second installment presents a more frivolous and (thus) critical picture of unions, management, and the benefits of literacy. Because this second book represents a more collaborative project than Click, Clack, Moo, Lewin’s illustrations fill the gaps left by the narrative’s lack of explicit references to labor. In the first such illustration, Bob’s introduction into the farm dynamic establishes his origins in the business world rather than the agricultural domain of the farm (5). Although Farmer Brown wears his usual straw hat, yellow plaid shirt, blue jean overalls, and red bandana, Bob wears a pink dress shirt, brown slacks, suspenders, and a patterned yellow tie. The rectangular case that Bob carries in his left hand, later identified as Farmer Brown’s suitcase, appears in this introductory image to be a briefcase. Bob rolls up his sleeves and leaves behind his jacket, but he otherwise wears the uniform of the businessman.
By leaving Bob in charge of the animals, Farmer Brown sets his brother up as a new manager, precisely the job that Duck will find to be too much work in Duck for President . Indicating that he is out of place on the farm, Bob remains in the house (see pages 8-9, 16-17, 19, and 20-21). In contrast, Farmer Brown appears inside his home only once in the three books, on pages 20-21 of Click, Clack, Moo . Bob stands near the barn exactly twice, once when he pays the delivery boy for the pizzas (10-11), and again when he peers in at the sleeping animals (12-13). In the first instance he does not even look into the barn as he feeds the animals, a responsibility fulfilled with a cash transaction rather than a pitchfork or pail. In addition, Bob actually allows animals into the house. He brings the pigs into Farmer Brown’s bathroom to give them bubble baths (16-17). Readers of this scene may interpret the monogrammed towels with which he dries the pigs as a simple comedic effect, as an evocation of executive bathrooms in the business world, or as an indication of a bourgeois desire for luxuries on the part of the animals. In the next instance of animal presence in the house, Bob does not question Duck’s presence at a desk, sharpening a pencil (20-21), and Bob supports the animals’ use of the living room for “movie night” by making popcorn (26-27, 30-31). The settings in which Bob is portrayed, combined with his actions, imply that he is more attuned to the financial and domestic spheres than to the farmyard.
In contrast with Bob, Duck, the neutral party of the first book, is now a privileged insider in the barn community. Duck’s position on pages 8-9 signals his important role in the second book. While Bob reads the first forged note on the left page, Duck occupies the place of power in the center of the right page, doubly framed by the threshold of the window and by flanking hens. Similarly, while Bob pays for the pizza outside the barn door on pages 10-11, Duck stands with the animals inside the barn. However, in this illustration Duck stands apart from the other animals, gazing back at Bob rather than congregating around the open pizza boxes. Duck’s position on pages 12-13 likewise signals his status as privileged insider. Other animals share the electric blankets, but Duck’s draped form takes up an entire blanket in the bottom center of the group. Duck stands and sleeps apart from the other animals, but he is accepted within their community, while Bob can only look in from outside.
Because Bob is out of place on the farm and unfamiliar with the agricultural operation for which he is temporarily responsible, he obeys, unquestioningly, the instructions regarding standard operating procedure that he believes have been left by the owner. Duck’s substitution of Farmer Brown’s notes, therefore, results in a series of “perks” being swindled out of the unsuspecting Bob. The animals abuse Bob’s ignorance of farm operations, convincing him that these extraordinary privileges are standard procedures established by Farmer Brown. The animals effectively substitute a forged employee relations manual for Farmer Brown’s original, a workplace prank that results in temporary perks and Farmer Brown’s abrupt return from Hawaii. Although the connection to employee relations in the workplace is not explicit in Cronin’s text, Lewin’s illustrations strongly imply such an interpretation.
If Giggle, Giggle, Quack is the least overtly referential of the three Duck books, then Duck for President easily contains the most explicit historical and cultural references. Adult readers will recognize borrowed slogans, campaign tactics, and even electoral scandals over recounts and disenfranchisement. Duck for President goes beyond a simple civics lesson and illuminates the media circus and legal wrangling now associated with a presidential election.
Cronin and Lewin have borrowed indiscriminately from historical American presidential campaigns to highlight Duck’s facility as a showman and a campaign junket’s status as performance. Under the title on the title page is a sketch of Duck, wings raised above his head in Richard Nixon’s often-caricatured victory gesture. As Roger Fischer notes in Them Damned Pictures: Explorations in American Political Cartoon Art, Nixon provided “the natural ingredients of caricature: ski-jump nose, beady eyes, jowls, thin shoulders—above all, his affinity for slouching with arms uplifted and fingers in a trademark double-V waggle” (212). Lewin’s choice of this image to open the book is ominous since Fischer argues that Nixon has become, for cartoonists, “a generic symbol for the manic ambition he had displayed” (213). In his campaign for farm manager, Duck uses the slogan: “Vote Duck! For a kinder, gentler farm!” (13). If “Duck” echoes the “Dick” in “Dick Nixon,” the promise of a “kinder, gentler” place is a direct reference to George H. W. Bush’s successful 1988 bid for the White House (CB Presidential Research Services). However, the media occasionally parodies this slogan in reference to George W. Bush’s record in Afghanistan and Iraq (Magnusson).
Underscoring the artifice of campaigning, Cronin and Lewin show Duck crafting an image of an authentic leader by borrowing the ideas of other politicians. One slogan Duck uses in his campaign for governor—“I’m a Duck, Not a Politician!”—echoes the slogans of many candidates for various government positions, making a precise referent difficult to identify (21). However, because Doreen Cronin lives in Manhattan (Courtot) and Betsy Lewin in Brooklyn (SimonSays.com), a likely source is Michael Bloomberg’s successful bid to fill Rudy Giuliani’s position as mayor of New York in 2001. In this campaign Bloomberg’s “ubiquitous” ads touted his claim to be “A Leader, Not a Politician” (George). On page 29 Duck recycles three phrases: Jimmy Carter’s 1976 slogan “A Leader, For a Change”; Gerald Ford’s slogan of “Making Us Proud Again” (from the same campaign); and Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 1952 slogan of “I Like Ike” (CB Presidential Research Services). On the bottom of page 31, Duck duplicates then presidential-candidate Bill Clinton’s 1992 Arsenio Hall Show appearance by playing saxophone “on late-night television” (Blasini). And when Duck retires to the farm to write his memoirs, three crossed out opening lines are visible on the computer screen: “Four score and seven years ago,” “The only thing we have to fear,” and “Ask not what your country…” (40). These lines are taken from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address (November 19, 1863), Kennedy’s Inaugural Address (January 22, 1961), and Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first Inaugural Address (March 4, 1933) (Bartlett 476, 799, 697). Duck displays a skill for recycling familiar phrases and tactics, regardless of the originator’s political affiliation or popularity.
Duck for President also highlights the carefully orchestrated media blitz of the modern campaign trail. Duck appears in four small vignettes on pages 22-23, each paired with a line of text. Duck “visited small-town diners,” “marched in parades,” “went to town meetings”6 and “gave speeches that only other ducks could understand.” Similarly, for his presidential campaign Duck “kissed babies in local diners,” “rode in parades,” appeared on television, and gave more speeches to ducks (30-31). According to Moebius, “the more frequently the same character is depicted on the same page, the less likely that character is to be in control of a situation, even if in the center” (149). The grouping of these vignettes provides the reader with only a few seconds to absorb each appearance, imparting the impression of Duck’s busy campaign schedule. Lewin still manages to convey the increase in scale between the state and the national elections. When Duck marches in a parade, he is flanked by two motorcycle police, two hens, and four members of a marching band (22). Later, Duck rides in a convertible driven by a policeman and escorted by Doberman pinschers in dark suits and sunglasses (30). The background is a mass of lines, random hands and flags representing the crowd of the parade crammed between the walls of city buildings on either side. The campaign appearances are grander but essentially the same.
Cronin and Lewin go beyond a standard civics lesson on voting procedures, incorporating into Duck for President current election scandals over disenfranchisement and recounts. A sign on page 15 lists three requirements for voter registration. Voters must: (1) “live on the farm,” (2) “show valid ID” and (3) “be at least this tall.” Duck reaches up from beneath the sign to cross out the final requirement, while three mice cluster at his feet in various attitudes of anger. The mice essentially protest the height requirement as unjust disenfranchisement of potential voters, equivalent to the historical denial of voting rights to women, men who did not own land, slaves, former slaves, African Americans, convicted felons, etc. The issue is also a reference to the widespread claims of voter disenfranchisement in the bitterly contested 2000 presidential election, especially in the state of Florida (U.S. Commission on Civil Rights). All three of the incumbents who lose to Duck demand recounts, further strengthening the connections to the 2000 presidential election. In the first recount, “one sticky ballot was found stuck to the bottom of a pig” (18). In the second, “two sticky ballots were found stuck to the bottom of a plate of pancakes” (26). And in the final election, “ten sticky ballots were found” stuck to the backside of the vice president (33). This repetition with a difference is amusing, but Lewin’s illustrations provide even more disturbing details. White feathers appear near both the pig and the vice president, and when a horse discovers the two ballots from the pancake breakfast, Duck’s forehead and feet are visible behind the flag-draped table in the background (26). These small details imply that the “recovered” ballots are, in fact, planted by the white-feathered Duck in a case of deliberate vote-rigging. The text treats both disenfranchisement and recounts as standard, and potentially amusing, components of elections, while the illustrations hint at the serious nature of these issues.
Despite its focus on the media circus of slogans and public appearances, Duck for President acknowledges that positions of authority require a sense of responsibility that Duck lacks. The book provides a glimpse of both the glamorous façade of television appearances and parades and the effort required to hold political office. After a single day in each elected position, Duck realizes that responsibility can be hard work. The opening pages of the Caldecott-winning So You Want to Be President? contain a similar statement, noting that there “are good things about being President, and there are bad things about being President” (St. George 7), including the assessment that the “President has lots of homework” (St. George 10). Duck for President goes beyond this simple statement, repeating the claim that holding office is hard work at each successive stage of Duck’s career. The book further supports this statement by cataloging the items that cover him by the end of the day, including grass and espresso beans (9), hay, horsehair, seeds, sprouts, and filth (20); hair spray, ink stains, mayonnaise, and Scotch tape (28); and face powder, security badges, and Secret Service agents (33). Furthermore, the illustration of the pinnacle of Duck’s political career is the bleakest image in the book (34-35). Dark blue shadows of curtains, furniture, and flags frame three triangles of light from the windows of the Oval Office. Duck stands at his desk in the light of the central window, back to the reader and shoulders hunched. He is fully enclosed by the blue depths of his elected post, trapped by his position rather than liberated.
On the whole, Duck for President contains more explicit or implicit references to American history and culture than the other two texts combined, a condition that both provides opportunities for and presents obstacles to its use in the classroom. It introduces the need for voter registration, various tactics used by candidates to win over voters, and procedures both for voting and contesting a vote. It also acknowledges that holding office is work. These qualities make it a useful resource for elementary instructors attempting to interest their students in and explain elections; however, the majority of the historical references in the book are unknown to students of every level. Though it occurred within their lifetimes, most of the college freshmen with whom I discussed the book in 2004 could not identify the reference to Bill Clinton’s appearance on the Arsenio Hall Show, although a few of them knew that recounts and voter disenfranchisement were a problem in the 2000 election. The borrowed slogans and speeches, familiar to many adult readers, are, at most, the basis of a research exercise for children, teens, and even college students.
Although educators and parents generally view Click, Clack, Moo, Giggle, Giggle, Quack, and Duck for President as resources for positive lessons on unions, literacy, elections, and other topics, readers approaching them from a different perspective might read them as a mockery of labor rights and the American political circus. In the books the selfish desire for luxuries motivates union activism. The electric blankets demanded by the cows and hens seem ludicrous in a barn that must be lit by lantern light at night (Giggle, Giggle, Quack 12-13). The ducks’ diving board serves purely entertainment purposes, and images of animals bedding down under electric blankets in a barn, of pigs luxuriating in bubble baths, or of cows lined up on a couch watching a movie present a potent satire of American materialism. The farm animals’ union agitates for impractical luxuries rather than for a living wage or for health benefits, tactics reminiscent of the “muscle-flexing” that led to antiunion legislation in the 1940s and that is credited for the bankruptcy of Eastern Airlines in 1991.7 The cows make no attempt to refute Farmer Brown’s argument for a natural division of labor, and they willingly silence themselves by relinquishing the typewriter, returning to their “natural” roles as producers, once they have been granted their luxuries.
The selfishness and frivolity of the earlier books reach their peak in Duck for President. Duck launches and continues his political career for the sole purpose of avoiding work. Each time he encounters the requirement for effort in his new position, Duck moves on to a loftier, and potentially less taxing, seat of power. But rather than being punished for his repeated avoidance of work, Duck ends the book inside, typing at a computer, while Farmer Brown does the manual labor required on the farm.
In contrast to Martin Waddell’s Farmer Duck (1992), Cronin and Lewin’s Duck books paint a frivolous portrait of labor. In Farmer Duck the duck assumes all of the labor ignored by the farmer, who spends his time reclining in bed, eating chocolates. Eventually, “the poor duck” grows “sleepy and weepy and tired” and collapses on a hay pile in tears. The other animals get “very upset” (13-14) and stage a dawn raid in which they forcibly evict the farmer from his bedroom, the farmhouse, and the farm (15-26). After the duck awakens and hears the story, all of the animals “set to work on their farm,” a scene complemented by illustrator Helen Oxenbury’s image of the duck directing other animals’ labors in the hay field (31-32). Farmer Duck communicates an explicitly socialist message, painting the duck as an oppressed worker and the farmer as a lazy and gluttonous tyrant. In Duck for President, in contrast, Farmer Brown asks the animals to do chores, but he also works hard enough to end the day “covered from head to toe in hay, horsehair, seeds, sprouts, feathers, filth, mud, muck, and coffee stains” (4-5). It is Duck who attempts to evade work by running for office.
Duck for President is also open to accusations that it belittles the serious issues of disenfranchisement and election fraud. The only explicit reference the book makes to this issue—the protest by the mice—is briefly noted, is easily eliminated, and has no lasting consequences (15). Readers are not told whether Farmer Brown, a resident of the farm, is eligible to vote in the first election, how farm animals procure valid IDs, or whether “the voters” in the gubernatorial and presidential races include animals as well as the humans pictured on page 32. The suspicious circumstances surrounding the recounts are also left up to the reader’s imagination. Although white feathers or Duck himself are present when the various missing ballots are found, these minute details are the only hints in the books of potentially widespread election fraud. Any irregularities in the three elections get glossed over with the pronouncement “The voters had spoken. Duck was officially in charge.” Unlike the 2004 presidential election, no one questions Duck’s “mandate” from the people once the results of the recounts are posted. Although this election postdates the publication of the book, George W. Bush’s claim to a “mandate” is part of the cultural knowledge that adult readers bring to the Duck books, and it may lead to negative responses to the phrase “the voters had spoken.”
While the portrayal of labor relations and political campaigns in the three Duck books allow for negative interpretations, readers must always be wary of overstatement. Very few readers will seriously believe that Click, Clack, Moo “is designed to subliminally turn little Suzi or Johnny into a raving socialistic trade-union loving pinko commie,” as one reviewer claimed (“Cows That Type…”). This reviewer exaggerates the implications of the first book, just as all three Duck books exaggerate the behavior, desires, and activities of Farmer Brown and his animals. As Nancy Polette indicates in her lesson plan for Click, Clack, Moo , one important ingredient of discussion of the book must be learning to distinguish “what parts of this story could be true” and why. Click, Clack, Moo, Giggle, Giggle, Quack, and Duck for President all include elements of parody, but they lack the vitriol of satire. The humorous approach to labor relations, unions, and political campaigns in the books invite critical assessments, but such interpretations are left to the adult reader’s discretion.
As with many such resources, the educational merits or failings of the Duck books largely depend on the audience for which they are chosen, the aims of those who select and present the materials, and the context in which they are presented. Although the books contain references beyond the scope of most children’s experiences, most organizations define the audience of Click, Clack, Moo, Giggle, Giggle, Quack, and Duck for President as infants or early-elementary children. The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee uses them in a lesson plan aimed at first through third graders (“Guest at Your Table”). Walters assigns them in lesson plans for kindergarten through grade two. Esme Codel, author of How to Get Your Child to Love Reading, recommends them for ages four and up. Retail superstore Barnes and Noble suggests them for children ages four or five to eight years old, while Amazon.com assigns them a reading level of “baby-preschool” (“Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type”). What these diverse ratings reflect is the assumption that picture books featuring farm stock and onomatopoetic refrains and animal sounds are suitable primarily for young children. The implied readers associated with such an audience are generally parents, educators, or librarians—adults who would determine the tone of voice and inflection involved in presenting the books to children. These same adults would be concerned to ensure that the context of the presentation, and any lesson plans based on the books, would be both suitable and instructional.
Designating children as the implied audience of these books, however, obscures the more complex relationship between the books’ implied narratees and the actual adult readers and audience. Click, Clack, Moo, Giggle, Giggle, Quack, and Duck for President reflect what Barbara Wall terms a “double” address narrative technique instead of a “single” one (35).8 Rather than straightforwardly addressing only the child narratee, “showing no consciousness that adults too might read the work,” the narrative and illustrations address both child and adult narratees. In the “double” system:
narrators will address narratees overtly and self-consciously, and will also address adults, either overtly, as the implied author’s attention shifts away from the implied reader to a different older audience, or covertly, as the narrator deliberately exploits the ignorance of the implied reader and attempts to entertain an implied adult reader by making jokes which are funny primarily because children will not understand them.
Adult readers understand the Duck books on a different register from child readers, since children do not possess the cultural experiences that make recycled campaign slogans or candidates playing saxophone on television resonate for adult Americans.
The plethora of allusions incorporated into the presented world of Click, Clack, Moo, Giggle, Giggle, Quack, and Duck for President justify the diversity of pedagogical applications attributed to the three books. Although one may find straightforwardly positive or negative readings of labor relations, unionization, elections, and other issues as portrayed in the three books, acknowledgement of the double address system at work in the texts allows for the recognition of multiple levels of meaning operating simultaneously. One example of parody—the impracticality of electric blankets in barns—would seem accessible to readers of many levels of knowledge. However, another example— references to dangling chads—seems primarily accessible to the adult reader. These references, both explicit and allusive, deliberately “exploit the ignorance” of the implied child audience and function as covert jokes directed exclusively at the adult audience. Educators and parents who are aware of these elements in the three books, therefore, assume the responsibility of determining which levels of the texts they will endeavor to make accessible to their students. Click, Clack, Moo may function both as an introductory lesson on union terminology and activism and as an indictment of the power wielded by corrupt unions. Giggle, Giggle, Quack may be approached both as a humorous lesson in the benefits of literacy and as a criticism of American materialism. And Duck for President may introduce both the procedures of registering to vote and the practice of vote rigging. Click, Clack, Moo, Giggle, Giggle, Quack, and Duck for President challenge educators to discuss sophisticated issues at the elementary level and to utilize seemingly elementary texts in secondary-and university-level examinations of those same issues.
This essay is an expanded version of a paper presented at the College English Association’s 36th Annual Conference in Indianapolis in April 2005.
2. Cronin’s future husband accused her of being “the union poster child,” at which point she began considering the text’s portrayal of organized labor. Her late father, to whom the book is dedicated, was “a New York transit police officer for 30 years and a member of the police union” (Hartman). Cronin claims that the dedication is merited, in part, by her feeling that, in writing the book, she “channeled” her father, sharing his storytelling ability with children who never had the opportunity to meet him (Macpherson).
3. Moebius calls such “capillary-like squiggles or bundles” “capillarity,” and claims that “an abundance of such marks often signals vitality or even a surfeit of energy, rendering the scene crowded, nervous, busy” (151). Nodelman argues that this “radial movement outward is typical of depictions of confused or intense emotion” and notes that “it is often used to represent explosions” (137). In this instance, I feel that the latter more accurately describes Farmer Brown’s appearance.
6. Visits to “town meetings” are a common tactic for candidates running for every level of office, although the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, credits Jimmy Carter’s 1976 campaign for popularizing the label for “any moderated discussion group in which a large audience is invited.”
7. Russel O. Wright, in his Chronology of Labor in the United States, blames repeated strikes by the United Mine Workers for the loss “of all the good relations [unions] had enjoyed with the American people since the depression began in the early 1930’s” (11-12). He further claims that “bankruptcy was the goal of the machinists union at Eastern” in order “to demonstrate that if things were not going to be done the way the union wanted, they were not going to be done at all” (89). Wright concludes by arguing that American unions “aare an anachronism whose time has passed” (107) because current labor laws protect many of the improvements in workplace safety, working conditions, pay scale, and benefits that unions once lobbied for.
8. I am simplifying what Wall posits as a threefold, rather than a twofold system. Wall further describes a “dual” system, in which “narrators address child narratees, usually covertly, but often openly as [E. B.] White does, either using the same ‘tone of seriousness’ which would be used to address adult narratees, or confidentially sharing the story in a way that allows adult narrator and child narratee a conjunction of interests” (35). The political campaign references in Duck for President clearly indicate the “double” rather than the “dual” address system.
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CLICK, CLACK, MOO: COWS THAT TYPE (2000)
Peter D. Sieruta (review date March-April 2000)
SOURCE: Sieruta, Peter D. Review of Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type, by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Betsy Lewin. Horn Book Magazine 76, no. 2 (March-April 2000): 183.
[In Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type, ] Farmer Brown’s cows find an old typewriter, and before you can say, “Click, clack, moo,” they’re typing a request for electric blankets—the barn gets cold at night. When the elderly farmer refuses, they tack another typewritten message to the barn door: “Sorry. We’re closed. No milk today.” Soon the hens join the strike and begin withholding eggs. Farmer Brown types up his own response, which is delivered by a neutral party—a duck—and things seem to reach a satisfying resolution. What Farmer Brown isn’t counting on is that—click, clack, quack!”—ducks like typing, too. The story is told in economical prose, with the typewritten notes blended smoothly into the text. Betsy Lewin’s illustrations, splashy watercolor washes, follow Farmer Brown from perplexed to perturbed, with his angry reaction to the cows’ demands silhouetted against the barn door while the animals peek out with bovine passivity. The pictures of the cows and ducks striking typewriter keys with hoof and wing are equally delightful. That typewriters may be as anachronistic to today kids as rumble seats and spinning wheels won’t lessen their enjoyment of this amusing story. They may have never heard the racket of a real typewriter, but they will certainly be familiar with the art of negotiation, and will soon be chanting along: “Click, clack, moo. Click, clack, moo. Click-ety, clack, moo.”
GIGGLE, GIGGLE, QUACK (2002)
Kay Bowes (review date November-December 2002)
SOURCE: Bowes, Kay. Review of Giggle, Giggle, Quack, by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Betsy Lewin. Library Talk 15, no. 5 (November-December 2002): 33-4.
Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin have once again created a winning tale [with Giggle, Giggle, Quack ]! Farmer Brown is well aware of the unusual problems that his farm animals can cause. How could he forget the electric blankets that he had to get for the cows in the Caldecott Honor Click Clack Moo: Cows That Type , (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2000)? So when he goes on vacation and leaves his brother Bob in charge, he has a premonition that something could possibly go wrong. He even tells Bob to watch out for Duck. The stage is set on the title page when Duck discovers a pencil lying in the road. But Bob suspects nothing even though he finds some strange requests on the notes that are located around the farm. Hilarity abounds on this crazy farm where the animals can look out for themselves. Each double-page layout gives clues to the weird goings-on, even though Bob is clueless. A lot of giggling from the animals makes the story very obvious to the children who will catch the subtlety and humor. Pair it with Bernard Most’s Cock-a-Doodle Moo (Har-court Brace, 1996) for a hilarious farm time story-time! [Highly Recommended].
DUCK FOR PRESIDENT (2004)
Publishers Weekly (review date 16 February 2004)
SOURCE: Review of Duck for President, by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Betsy Lewin. Publishers Weekly 251, no. 7 (16 February 2004): 170.
As the run-up to the 2004 presidential election gathers momentum, it appears that George W. Bush may have more than Democrats on his tail. Duck, the ever-scheming star of Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type has thrown his feathers in the ring [in Duck for President ]. Fed-up with the drudgery of his barnyard chores, Duck decides to officially buck authority and hold an election to determine who should be in charge. The web-footed wonder narrowly defeats Farmer Brown, but soon discovers that running a farm is not all it’s cracked up to be. Duck plans a move to greener pastures by entering—and eventually winning—the race for governor. However, for the ambitious feathered hero, only the highest office in the land will do, and he charts a course for the Oval Office, which also has its drawbacks. Though Cronin’s latest Duck tale introduces the basic mechanics of the election process, it lacks many of the silly high jinks and clever plot turns that gave its predecessors their charm. A few nods to past presidents appear in both text and art (Nixon, Clinton, G. H. W. Bush), offering older readers a knowing wink. The focus on Duck’s dissatisfaction and loneliness at the top makes the story line perhaps better suited to adults, even as Lewin’s chunky-outlined watercolors continue to cater to the younger crowd with her usual dashes of humor and daffy sweetness. Her depictions of the campaign-trail motorcades, parades and town meetings are a hoot. All ages.
CLICK, CLACK, QUACKITY-QUACK: AN ALPHABETICAL ADVENTURE (2005)
Publishers Weekly (review date 22 August 2005)
SOURCE: Review of Click, Clack, Quackity-Quack: An Alphabetical Adventure, by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Betsy Lewin. Publishers Weekly 252, no. 33 (22 August 2005): 62.
It’s funny business as usual down on the Brown farm, as droll Duck and those literate cows from Cronin and Lewin’s Click, Clack Moo: Cows That Type return in [Click, Clack, Quackity-Quack: An Alphabetical Adventure, ] this conceptual romp for younger readers. It seems the cows have tapped out their latest directive and it involves Duck’s help in its implementation. In a jovial, bouncy tone, Cronin crafts alliterative phrases beginning with each letter of the alphabet (e.g., “Goats grooming, hens helping, inchworms inching. Jumpity-jump!”) to tell the simple tale of a pleasant Duck-led summer outing. As readers follow Duck and his red wagon through the pages, they also waddle through their ABC’s: each lower-case letter is highlighted in a large typeface, alongside the appropriate words and images. Eventually, the cast of critters ends up where X marks the perfect spot for a picnic, replete with plenty of “watermelons waiting.” Lewin’s loose, thickly outlined watercolors keep readers in playful suspense along the way, dropping visual hints for eagle-eye observers. Her sunny depictions of this barnyard bunch brim with personality and humorous detail. Ages 2-5.
DIARY OF A SPIDER (2005)
Susan Dove Lempke (review date November-December 2005)
SOURCE: Lempke, Susan Dove. Review of Diary of a Spider, by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Harry Bliss. Horn Book Magazine 81, no. 6 (November-December 2005): 204.
Worm’s good friend Spider (introduced in Diary of a Worm, rev. 11/03) here writes his own diary, showing our world from the arachnid point of view [in Diary of a Spider ]. Cronin spins a story with threads from the everyday world of a schoolchild (sleepovers, a trip to the park) woven into the physiology of a spider—as when he brings his old molted skin for show-and-tell. In its own form of multiculturalism, this creepy-crawly world allows worms, spiders, and flies to be friends, but the relationships are not without their tensions— Fly’s mother, for example, doesn’ like it when Fly gets stuck in Spider’s web (“From now on, we have to play at Fly’s house”). With warm, soft colors and playful expressions on each character, Bliss creates a landscape where even an old soda can (“Spider’s Clubhouse”) appears cozy and welcoming. Visual jokes abound, as when Spider and his sister visit the park. Both the seesaw and the tire swing “didn’t work” (the pictures show the two tiny creatures unable to budge the gigantic equipment), but the huge web they spin on the water fountain did (“Eeeeek!” screams the girl who gets stuck in it). Kid humor and spider humor (not to mention worm humor) seem remarkably similar, so expect this second Diary to be just as popular as the first.
Susan Dove Lempke (review date September-October 2005)
SOURCE: Lempke, Susan Dove. Review of Wiggle, by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Scott Menchin. Horn Book Magazine 81, no. 5 (September-October 2005): 560.
The floppy cared dog in this book [Wiggle ] begins his day with a wiggle (“Do you wake up with a wiggle?”) and, like many a toddler, wiggles all the way till bedtime. The doggy wiggles underwater with some startled-looking fish, wiggles with some bees (his ears and legs flapping), and even plays the accordion wearing a top hat and holding a pink flower between his teeth. Children listening to Cronin’s ebullient questions (“Can you wiggle with your shadow?”) will find wiggling along irresistible; the infectious humor will make them laugh and encourage them to pay attention to the comic pictures. With objects outlined in black to stand out against the simple, clean backgrounds, Menchin’s digitally rendered illustrations often incorporate a photographed element (such as a pancake) with the always amusing cartoon dog (after too much wiggling, the pancake lands on the dog’s head). This high-energy book will work well with young groups all the way to the end: “I think we’re out of wiggles now. See you wiggle soon!”
CLICK, CLACK, SPLISH, SPLASH: A COUNTING ADVENTURE (2006)
Publishers Weekly (review date 21 November 2005)
SOURCE: Review of Click, Clack, Splish, Splash: A Counting Adventure, by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Betsy Lewin. Publishers Weekly 252, no. 16 (21 November 2005): 46.
Fast on the webbed feet of Click, Clack, Quackity Quack: An Alphabetical Adventure comes this counting companion [Click, Clack, Splish, Splash: A Counting Adventure ], again starring Duck as the instigation of mischievous, though well-intentioned fun. As the farmer naps on the couch near his soothing fish tank (“1 farmer sleeping”), Duck (“2 feet creeping”) and the barnyard crew sneak into the house on a hush-hush mission—something that involves “3 buckets piled high” outside the window and “4 chickens standing by.” At book’s end, readers learn that Duck’s master plan was to liberate the farmer’s finned friends (a clue is planted on the title page). Though not quite as charming as its abecedarian cousin, this slight volume still offers a comical introduction to numerals one through 10. Lewin’s black-outlined menagerie is as breezy as ever, tiptoeing, climbing or splashing through lots of white space to the final destination. Ages 2-5.
DOOBY DOOBY MOO (2006)
Kristi Boyd (review date February 2007)
SOURCE: Boyd, Kristi. Review of Dooby Dooby Moo, by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Betsy Lewin. Library Media Connection 25, no. 5 (February 2007): 68.
The cows, duck, and Farmer Brown of Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type (Simon & Schuster, 2000) fame are back again in [Dooby Dooby Moo, ] a hilarious, new adventure. In the newest tale, the farm animals decide to enter a talent contest at the county fair in hope of winning first prize, a trampoline. The cows decide to sing, the sheep decide to sing, the pigs decide to do an interpretive dance, and duck directs. Once again, Farmer Brown hears strange noises coming from the barn each night as the farm animals practice their act and he knows the farm animals are up to something. But what? Like the earlier titles, this is a book that children and adults will enjoy giggling over together. The lively text and energetic watercolor illustrations are highly engaging and entertaining. For a rollicking and raucous barnyard story time, pair this read-aloud with Margie Palati-ni’s Moo Who? (HarperCollins, 2004) or Elizabeth Winthrop’s Dumpy La Rue (Henry Holt & Company, 2001), which was also illustrated by Betsy Lewin.
Kirkus Reviews (review date 15 April 2007)
SOURCE: Review of Bounce, by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Scott Menchin. Kirkus Reviews 75, no. 8 (15 April 2007): 388.
In her bright paean to the joys of vertical movement, Cronin’s rhyming text is not just an invitation but an exhortation to young readers to bounce [in Bounce ]. The canine protagonist, in a red baseball cap worn backwards, follows a bunny through a cabbage patch. There’s also a frog, ballerinas, bees, bats and several other bouncers in all manner of locales. The bouncing dog gets a little respite when he lands in a kangaroo pouch. When he bounces too high, this turns into a bump and then a fall. At the end, covered in bandages, he concludes that it’s still “better to have bounced and bumped than never to have bounced at all.” Cronin comes up with an admirably broad spectrum of bouncers and bounce-upons, all enthusiastically nearly springing off the page. The bold simplicity of both the text and Menchin’s illustrations, rendered in pen and ink with digital color, should appeal to very young readers—and be within their reach. (Picture book. 3-6)
DIARY OF A FLY (2007)
Susan Dove Lempke (review date January-February 2008)
SOURCE: Lempke, Susan Dove. Review of Diary of a Fly, by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Harry Bliss. Horn Book Magazine 84, no. 1 (January-February 2008): 70.
Readers of Diary of a Worm (rev. 11/03) and Diary of a Spider (rev. 11/05) could guess that Diary of a Fly would not be far behind, and, sure enough, here is the third in the series of books about a trio of diminutive friends. Like the others, this relays real-life information through humor (“What if I’m the only one [at school] who eats regurgitated food?”) in a way that makes the facts memorable. Cronin uses her impeccable comedic timing throughout, as when Fly compares herself to a superhero (“I can walk on walls”) and Spider then deflates her (“Your brain is the size of a sesame seed”). Bliss includes many witty details in his illustrations, with a set of additional pictures on the end-papers with captions that make them almost like supplementary cartoons. The short sentences and visual jokes make this a great selection for listeners and new readers alike.
Cronin, Doreen, Betsy Lewin, and Linda M. Castellitto. “Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin.” BookSense.com (online journal), http://www.booksense.com/people/archive/c/croninlewin.jsp (2003).
Cronin and illustrator Betsy Lewin discuss their process of collaboration in writing and illustrating children’s books.
Review of Giggle, Giggle, Quack, by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Betsy Lewin. Kirkus Reviews 70, no. 8 (15 April 2002): 565.
Compliments the humor in Giggle, Giggle, Quack but notes that the book stands “in the shadow of the innovative original”—i.e., Cronin’s first work Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type.
Review of Duck for President, by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Betsy Lewin. Kirkus Reviews 72, no. 1 (1 January 2004): 35.
Praises Cronin’s “sidesplitting” lampoon of politics in Duck for President.
Roback, Diane, Jennifer M. Brown, and Cindi Di Marzo. Review of Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type, by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Betsy Lewin. Publishers Weekly 247, no. 8 (21 February 2000): 86.
Describes Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type as a “hilarious debut picture book.”
Additional coverage of Cronin’s life and career is contained in the following source published by Gale: Children’s Literature Review, Vol. 105; Literature Resource Center; Something about the Author, Vol. 125.