Posted by: Jenny | Monday, 8 August 2011

Chicken Licken

One of the joys of young parenthood for me was the opportunity to read to my children. Old, well-known favourites like Winnie the Pooh, as well as new classics (well, new when my children were young) such as Mog the Forgetful Cat. I still delight in seeking out new books, and attractive editions of old favourites, for other people’s children.

My mother evidently shares this passion for children’s books, and would often contribute to our library. She found a reprint of a book we both recalled from my childhood, Teddy Bear Coalman – a delightfully illustrated tale of a day in the life of a coal delivery man in post-war Britain, who just happens to be a teddy bear but otherwise lives in a 1950s world of coal fires and petunia-lined, square front lawns.

I soon found myself classifying children’s books into those which were entertaining to children and adults, and those which appealed to children but were tedious in the extreme for the parent reading the story. All of the titles mentioned above fall into the former category. But the day came when Mum presented me with a Ladybird book of the story of Chicken Licken, with the words “I bought this for your children because you made me read it to you, over and over again, when you were a child!”

The story, for those of you who are unfamiliar with it, goes like this. Chicken Licken receives a knock on the head and thinks that the sky is falling down. He decides that he had better go and impart this important information to the King. On the way, he meets various other, equally pea-brained birds (Goosey Loosey, Turkey Lurkey etc) who join him in his quest. “So Turkey Lurkey, Goosey Loosey, Henny Penny, Ducky Lucky and Chicken Licken all went to tell the King that the sky was falling down”. You get the idea. Fortunately, just as you are beginning to hope that there are no more varieties of domestic fowl for them to meet on their interminable and pointless quest, they encounter Foxy Loxy. You can work out the rest…

I can understand my mother’s motivation in wanting to get back at me for my own childhood delight in repetitive stories! And I have to say that my children loved this, as well as The Big Fat Turnip, The Gingerbread Boy and countless other stories with not much plot but a lot of repetition. Why is it that young children enjoy repetition so much? Even a less boring story (or song, or game) breaches an adult’s boredom threshold long before the child tires of repeating it.

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