cover image Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?

Jon Agee, et al. . Dial, $16.99 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-8037-3094-6

Fourteen picture book creators try their hands on an age-old question in this intermittently funny compendium. Each participant faces the challenge in a full-bleed spread. Some take a wordless approach. Jerry Pinkney pictures an elaborate picnic; a ruffled hen in a bonnet crosses a country lane as a hare checks its pocketwatch and a squirrel and box turtle sip tea around a gingham tablecloth. Chris Sheban anthropomorphizes his chickens less quaintly: baseball-playing birds exchange a glance in regard to a freshly broken window and their escape route. Other artists pair a picture and punch line. Mo Willems, no stranger to birdy humor, imagines cops interrogating a sweaty hen ("I just did it to get to the other side! Honest!"). Harry Bliss demands that readers "Ask the mutated zombie chickens from Mars!" and shows drooling, bloodshot-eyed leghorns in pursuit of a live one. Lynn Munsinger's straightforward reply ("Because the light said 'walk' ") headlines a commanding scene of city chickens shopping, rollerblading, flapping to work and cackling on cell phones. The best responses, like Munsinger's, include unpredictable details that invite lingering. Otherwise, this is a very fast read, notable more for its guest stars than their contributions (the assembled creators make light remarks in a "Why did the artist cross the road?" afterword, and the book includes a poster). Few of the entries lay an egg, but no one provides a definitive response—except perhaps Chris Raschka's ink-wash sphinx, who intones, "You tell me." Ages 4-up. (Sept.)