A Crow of His Own
Written by Megan Dowd Lambert; Illustrated by David Hyde Costello
Charlesbridge, April 2015
E-book: 978-1-60734-756-9 EPUB, 978-1-60734-622-7 PDF
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- A 2016 Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Honor
- A CCBC Choices 2016 title
- Bank Street College Best Children’s Books of the Year, 2016 Edition
Living in the shadow of a legend is a lot of work.
Larry was the best rooster ever, waking up the barnyard, impressing his compatriots, and sending all the hens into a swoon with his masterful crow. But when his genius is discovered and Larry takes off for fame and fortune, farmers Jay and Kevin replace the irreplaceable with Clyde. The other animals are skeptical.
Clyde tries everything to win the affections of his new mates—costumes, a soft shoe, a unicycle, even a moustache. But his efforts fall flat and his crow goes unheard. That is until the motherly goose, Roberta, tells him he should just try being himself. Her sage council frees Clyde to step out of the shadows and into the rising sun and crow like only Clyde can crow.
Clyde’s journey is highlighted with animated dialogue and hilarious illustrations full of sight gags that will keep young readers glued to the page. A delightful story that will encourage readers to find their own inner crow.
Awards and Praise for A Crow of His Own:
- I’m so grateful and thrilled to receive an Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Honor for A Crow of His Own! Read the press release, check out highlights from the ceremony, and scroll down to the bottom of this page to read my full acceptance speech. And, here’s a blog post I wrote for the Charlesbridge Blog about the festival at USM and the award ceremony.
- Many thanks to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the School of Education of the University of Wisconsin-Madison for including A Crow of His Own on the CCBC Choices 2016 list.
- Thanks to Bank Street College of Education for including A Crow of His Own on its Best Children’s Books of the Year, 2016 Edition list in the Under 5 category as a Read Aloud pick.
“Larry, one of the most incredible roosters that ever lived, has left his farm in pursuit of greater achievements. The farm needs another rooster and Larry’s are hard shoes to fill, but Clyde is determined to live up to Larry’s legacy. After some failed attempts at grandeur, and skepticism from the rest of the animals, Clyde finally finds his own voice and a new legend begins. The cartoon illustrations have humorous details that will entertain readers who are paying close attention. For example, the chickens are constantly expressing their love of Larry pictorially by scratching messages in the dirt until the end, when Clyde becomes the center of their affections. The snide remarks of the other farm animals are shown in speech bubbles in the pictures. The farmers are two men and it is implied they are a couple, which is not a major factor of the story but still adds some appreciated diversity to the typical farm book category. Children see a supportive character in the motherly goose who encourages Larry during his adjustment stage. There are also some nice vocabulary words sprinkled throughout the text (such as disgruntled, lamented, and implored).This is highly recommended. —Amber Sams, for the Kutztown University Library Science and Instructional Technology Department 2016 Spring Book Review
“A scrawny young rooster named Clyde tries to fill the big shoes of his predecessor, Larry, in Lambert’s verbally dexterous ode to identity. Larry the rooster brought star power to Sunrise Farm. He knew how, in the farmspun words of motherly goose Roberta, to make “quite a show of it”—”it” being the morning cock-a-doodle-doo. When Clyde pops from his crate to greet his new farm mates, all bumble-footed and insecure in the shadow of the great Larry, the other animals (minus Roberta) find him wanting: in word bubbles of disappointment, “What a worthless chicken.” Clyde endeavors to top Larry at Larry’s game-two-stepping, riding a unicycle, parachuting into the dawn-and he makes a hash of it, because Clyde isn’t Larry. Clyde must find his own voice, and he does so with a little help from Roberta. Where Lambert hoes a row of her own is in the wording of the story. No “said” or “asked” makes an appearance. Rather, readers discover “stammered” and “soothed,” “assured” and “chirped,” “mused” and “fussed.” Costello’s pen-and-watercolor illustrations are a happy vehicle for the story, with colors from deep in the big crayon box, expressive penwork and a pleasing hominess to the farm. An invitation to be your own showman, crow your own crow, cock-a-doodle-doo with “a little warble at the beginning, and a crescendo at the ‘doodle’…and oh, that raspy growl.”—Kirkus Reviews
“A starstruck young rooster learns the hard way that show business is just a matter of letting your ‘cock-a-doodle-doo’ cock-a-doodle do it. A delightful story with wordplay to crow about.”—Norton Juster, author of The Phantom Tollbooth and The Hello, Goodbye Window
“When Larry, a prize-winning rooster, takes off for new opportunities, Farmer Jay and Farmer Kevin replace him with Clyde. When the farm animals see the scrawny new bird for the first time, they say things like “Uh-oh” and “Not much pep in his step.” A group of chickens ignores him because they are too busy declaring their love for Larry in the dirt with their feet. A motherly goose named Roberta steps in to help Clyde when she sees him worrying about living up to Larry’s “cock-a-doodle-doo.” After several failures, Clyde learns that he doesn’t need to impress the others with showmanship and props. He just needs to be himself and that is enough to make him stand out from the others. The watercolor illustrations are realistic in style, but the doubting animals speak in humorous dialogue balloons, and they occasionally act like people (they watch Larry on TV and read the newspaper). VERDICT A very funny but telling look at self-acceptance and not assuming the worst based on first impressions.”—School Library Journal
“Farmers Jay and Kevin replace their old rooster, Larry, with a new one, Clyde, but the barnyard animals clearly find the scrawny little fellow unimpressive. Distressed, Clyde prepares for his crack-of-dawn debut by working all day on his props, costume, and choreography. That first morning, he oversleeps. On the next, he and his unicycle fall off the roof of the coop. After several failures, Clyde listens to Roberta’s advice, “Forget about Larry. Just crow your own crow,” and greets the dawn with a resounding “COCK-A-DOODLE-DOO!” The text of this picture book reads aloud well, while the speech balloons in the illustrations carry candid and sometimes funny comments by the barnyard animals. Simply drawn and bright with fluid watercolors, the illustrations reflect the amusing tone of the text. Wrapped in humor, the story’s message is lightly delivered and easy to accept. Children are likely to feel so happy with Clyde’s success that they’ll want to crow right along with him. A fine choice for storytime.”—Booklist
Here’s a review posted 11/7/2016 by Celebrate Picture Books for Job Action Day. Cock-a-doodle-doo!
The Back-Story to the Story of A Crow of His Own
The story got its start when David invited me to play the Scribble Game in his studio. He drew a quick scribble on the page and said,
“What does this look like?”
“A mustache,” I replied.
“So who has a mustache?” he asked, and I said the first thing that came to mind:
“OK, so now you come up with a story about why a rooster has a mustache,” he said. To paraphrase the story of one Little Red Hen: And I did!
My first draft had the rooster trying to impress a hen he had a crush on. But I quickly abandoned that idea because I knew that most kids wouldn’t be drawn to an avian romance. So I changed the hen to a motherly goose named Roberta who helps the rooster Clyde when he arrives at Sunrise Farm.
Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Honor Acceptance Speech for A Crow of His Own
by Megan Dowd Lambert
Delivered April 7, 2016
Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival at the Thad Cochran Center on the University of Southern Mississippi campus in Hattiesburg, MS
First, thank you. Thanks to the Ezra Jack Keats Award committee for selecting A Crow of His Own to be honored alongside theseother wonderful picturebooks. Thanks to my family for their love and encouragement, and thanks to my inspirational workplace, Simmons College, where I was a student and am now a teacher. Thank you to Charlesbridge Publishing, and especially my editor Yolanda Scott. Finally, thanks to my dear friend and illustrator David Hyde Costello whose pictures are superior to anything I ever could have imagined when I wrote this text. I am one lucky author.
And now, although part of me wanted to deliver a funny speech brimming with puns in keeping with my picture book text, I instead feel a pull to shift from giving thanks to saying please: Please keep fighting the good fight, by which I mean the joyful, hard, and crucial work of supporting children on their respective paths to selfhood. Think of Peter crunch, crunch, crunching his way through a snowy day. Remember how he sees the big boys having a snowball fight and thinks it would be fun to join them? But, he knows he isn’t big enough, “not yet.” Those two words, “not yet” hold hope as they anticipate the future and render his path not just a physical journey on one snowy day in his life, but a metaphor for growing up.
Sometimes we adults look at children growing up and instead of seeing hope we frame their maturation as somehow tragic—think of the melancholic phrases, the loss of innocence, they grow up so fast. But isn’t growing up a birthright and not a tragedy? Shouldn’t we adult celebrate this growing up, and help clear that path? Or in the words of Walter Dean Meyers, “let us celebrate the children and bring them peace.”
What does all of this have to do with my punny farmyard story about a scrawny rooster with an inferiority complex? Well, when I sign my book I write, “Crow your own crow!” because my story attempts to say to readers “BE WHO YOU ARE.” I stole that last line from the back cover of Alex Gino’s 2015 middle grade novel, GEORGE, which tells the story of a transgender girl who calls herself Melissa. Today when I think of the Melissas in the world, I rail against the discriminatory laws recently passed in North Carolina, and here in Mississippi, and elsewhere, that seek to block paths, not open them. I’m heartened that so many in the children’s literature community have spoken out in solidarity with queer youth, and I add my voice to theirs.
I’m committed to the truth that We Need Diverse Books. In A Crow of His Own I heed this call, not this time with a story about people of color (my next book, Real Sisters Pretend, illustrated by Nicole Tadgell is about a multiracial, adoptive, two-mom family) but with one that includes a white gay couple, Farmer Jay and Farmer Kevin, whom David based on two friends. I came out as bisexual when I was 18, and I co-parent with my ex-wife, so I have a personal stake in writing queer characters; but this isn’t just about my identity, or about my hope that children’s literature will continue expanding to include diverse family constellations that reflect the realities of children like mine. It’s about making space for a range of diverse voices that have been silenced or shamed, marginalized or drowned out, in children’s literature and beyond. I’m proud that Crow is being recognized by an award that specifically highlights books “that portray the universal qualities of childhood, a strong and supportive family, and the multicultural nature of our world.” When I was growing up, Keats’s books provided me, a white girl in rural Vermont, with images of racially and ethnically diverse children and urban beauty. Now, as a mother of six children of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, I’m appreciative of the ways Keats’ work provides what Rudine Sims Bishop called mirrors to my children of color, and I’m aware of how he helped clear a path for other writers and artists, crucially including people of color and Native people, to make their marks in children’s literature, too. I hope that Clyde, with a crow of his own, and Farmer Kevin and Farmer Jay, too, can follow in Peter’s snowy footsteps to play a small part in claiming space for any and everyone who objects to an all-straight world of children’s books as surely as Ezra Jack Keats and his legions of readers objected to what Nancy Larrick called an “all-white world of children’s books.” These struggles are not the same, but to use scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw’s term, they intersect, and they can move in solidarity, together.
Hold that word, “together”, in your mind and think again of Peter, walking on his path and anticipating the end of “not yet” days, when he will be a big boy, too; and if you were lucky enough to attend Tim Tingle’s storytelling last night, think also of Little Mo walking on the path of stones across the surface of the water to freedom in Crossing Bok Chitto: A Choctaw Story of Friendship and Freedom. Both children end their stories, not alone on their paths, but together with others—Peter goes out into the deep, deep snow with the boy from across the hall, and Little Mo escapes with his family to receive sanctuary with his friend Martha Tom and her Choctaw nation. And in my silly, and I hope, tender, story, Clyde becomes part of the Sunrise Farm community when he finds his voice and crows his own crow, but he achieves this, not through individual perseverance, but through gentle guidance from motherly goose Roberta and patient, off-to-the side encouragement from Farmer Kevin and Farmer Jay. He needs them, just as we need each other.
So, please, let’s walk a path together toward a truly inclusive children’s literature that will embolden, delight, inspire, and free all children as they realize the birthright of growing up to be exactly who they are. The “not yet” days are over for us adults when it comes to this work. The time is now.