cover image Four Legs Bad, Two Legs Good!

Four Legs Bad, Two Legs Good!

Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Author, Jan Spivey Gilchrist, Illustrator

Johnson, whose Henry picture books encapsulate Thoreau’s philosophy, grazes the surface of Animal Farm in this barnyard tale. Here, a bipedal pig called Farmer Orvie, undoubtedly in tribute to Orwell, presides over a dilapidated, tin-roof barn; its sign, “Manor Farm,” has been changed to read “No-Man Farm.” Orvie paints his motto on the barn’s faded boards (“4 legs bad, 2 legs good”), and spends his days barking orders at a donkey, cow, goat and duck. As in another political primer, Giggle, Giggle, Quack , the duck turns out to be a troublemaker. Since she walks on two legs, she reasonably asks, “Can I be the farmer now?... You don’t pull the plow. You don’t cut the hay.” When Orvie refuses to accept her logic, Duck stages a coup by pulling a bathtub plug from the pond and draining the water supply. Never mind that real ponds don’t work this way—the convoluted tactic forces all five animals into cooperation, whereupon Duck establishes a new rule of “18 legs best.” Johnson chooses a glowing earth-tone palette of sunlit greens, orange golds and purplish browns for his fine-tuned multimedia illustrations; his cubist style, geometric shapes and flattened, hinged planes hold attention where the plot lags. Ultimately, Johnson quells the revolution and settles for a tidy wrap-up, placing Duck in the governing position. Where the Henry books deftly adapt 19th-century ideas, this story trades on a superficial resemblance to its literary model to sound a basic lesson in getting along. Ages 4-8. (Sept.)