cover image Crabby Cratchitt

Crabby Cratchitt

Gregory Maguire. Clarion Books, $15 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-395-60485-4

Erratic improvisations on ""Old Macdonald Had a Farm"" frustrate attempts to sing along with this so-so story of a female farmer and her chicken. Crabby Cratchitt has a hen (""E-I-E-I-oh""). Every time the gray-haired farmer tries to nap, she wakes to ""a cluck cluck here/ and a cluck cluck there./ Too much clucking everywhere."" Crabby Cratchitt grabs a hatchet and chases the garrulous bird all over the farm, but she has a change of heart when a fox nearly finishes the job. Glass's (Monster Manners) caricatures of the barnyard antics recall Paul Brett Johnson's folktale illustrations. Bony, pot-bellied Crabby wears an incongruous outfit of brown skirt and yellow rain boots, and the scenery includes a ramshackle pickup truck, chicken wire and a profusion of straw. Maguire (Five Alien Elves) explains that the maddening ""here a cluck,/ there a cluck,/ sounded like a record stuck."" Yet his couplets skip like a stuck record, too, from ""Crabby had a clever plan./ She'd cook that hen in a frying pan!"" to ""Crabby Cratchitt, at it still./ That hen was pretty hard to kill."" These singsong stanzas require repetitive images of the scowling Crabby and her victorious hen, and this slapstick combination quickly gets stale. Ages 4-8. (Aug.)