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The Bulletin
of the Center for Children's Books:

Each month we offer a focus on a particular author or artist. Sometimes we use this space to discuss a rising new talent or an established star, but we also like to celebrate those who now live on only in the rich legacy of their books. See the archive for focus pieces from previous months.
Rising Star—Doreen Cronin

Doreen Cronin's irrepressible Wiggle, which playfully catalogues the many ways to express oneself physically—including wiggling “where your tail would be” and “in your underwear”—wiggled its way into our hearts and onto the list of 2005 Bulletin Blue Ribbons. The theme of self-expression is not new territory for Cronin, though her focus on the release of pent-up physical energy is something of a departure. Moving little ones to, well, movement in Wiggle, Cronin's other works, featuring an engaging cast of irreverent, scribbling animals, may move them to literary expression as well.

Whatever Cronin's mischievous ducks, cows, worms, and spiders happen to be doing, they usually put it in writing. Indeed, writing has a central role to play in many of Cronin's stories; animal literacy, while inherently humorous, is also a serious avenue for resisting unjust authority and addressing persistent stereotypes, such as the belief that all spiders bite. Whether they are typing up demands for better amenities in the barnyard workplace, posting election posters to overthrow Farmer Brown's iron-fisted rule, or recording the truth of their daily experiences in diaries, Cronin's animal characters use written language not just to protest, but to make connections and create common cause with their readers.

Perhaps the best known of Cronin's rebellious critters are the barnyard ones, headed up by the rabble-rousing Duck, who emerges early on as a trouble-maker in an ongoing war (across multiple titles) against the blustery tyranny of Farmer Brown. Initially serving as the neutral go-between in the cows' and hens' strike in Click, Clack, Moo , Duck ultimately eschews mediation for the pursuit of his own demands, making him Farmer Brown's favorite scapegoat thereafter. Fortunately, Duck can use a pencil as well as a typewriter, and his scrawling abilities in Giggle, Giggle, Quack are key in fooling Farmer Brown's hapless, citified brother Bob into ordering pizza for the animals and renting them a movie (The Sound of Moosic) while Farmer Brown is away on vacation. Later, in Duck for President , Duck decides he's fed up with Farmer Brown's dictatorship, organizing an election while promoting Duck's own candidacy. Finally, in Click, Clack, Splish, Splash, a barnyard conspiracy to emancipate Farmer Brown's fish from their aquarium succeeds while the befuddled farmer is napping. Stealthy, deadpan humor abounds in the signs and notices interspersed with the main text, while repetitive refrains—including clacking typewriters, animal sounds (moos and quacks) and giggles as the animals snicker away at their clueless employer—are as subversive as they are fun.

Equally humorous but more subtly insurgent are the diaries of Worm and Spider, who record daily experiences that will ring both familiar and unfamiliar to young readers. In Diary of a Worm , the narrator's jottings reveal that worms have homework (though they're prone to eating it) and do the Hokey Pokey (though they are limited to putting their heads in and out). Despite the fact that their front and rear ends look the same, there's a lot to love about being a worm—no baths, no dentists, and tracking dirt through the house is a rule rather than a punishable exception. In Diary of a Spider , the arachnid narrator explains the troubled history between spiders and flies (currently improving) and takes his molted skin to school for show and tell. Clever asides in the form of dialogue balloons pop up periodically, and readers learn that the secret to a long spider life is never to fall asleep in a shoe. The diary ends with a gentle admonition to get to know spiders better, and to not judge all spiders by those that bite. Terse, often unexpectedly hilarious punch lines not only buoy the rhythm of the text, but also help both Worm and Spider counter the negative press each oft-maligned species receives.

Whether they keep diaries, post strike notices, or wiggle their way through the day, Cronin's animals understand the importance of self-expression. Her skillful manipulation of animal writing not only creates clever, supplementary narratives that offer subversive accompaniments to the main stories, but also allows her characters to write against unjust authority and prejudice. Thumbing their (sometimes figurative) noses at authority, Cronin's literate animals play tricks and crack jokes, while at the same time going about the serious business of creating what might be considered a kind of Empowerment 101 text for disempowered creatures of all species.

—Loretta Gaffney, Reviewer

Selected Bibliography:
Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type ; illus. by Betsy Lewin. Simon & Schuster, 2000. (BCCB 9/00)
Click, Clack, Splish, Splash: A Counting Adventure ; illus. by Betsy Lewin. Atheneum, 2006. (BCCB 3/06)
Diary of a Spider ; illus. by Harry Bliss. (BCCB 10/05)
Diary of a Worm ; illus. by Harry Bliss. HarperCollins, 2003. (BCCB 10/03)
Duck for President ; illus. by Betsy Lewin. Simon & Schuster, 2004. (BCCB 5/04)
Giggle, Giggle, Quack ; illus. by Betsy Lewin. Simon & Schuster, 2002. (BCCB 6/02)
Wiggle ; illus. by Scott Menchin. Atheneum, 2005. (BCCB 7/05)


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This page was last updated on March 1, 2006.