May 16, 2015

Facing Our Fears: Daredevil Duck and Scaredy Squirrel

When it comes to animals routinely associated with fear and timidity, my thoughts tend toward rabbits, turtle doves, or even meerkats.

Two animals that would never occur to me are ducks, (often territorial, assertive, and downright aggressive) and squirrels (curious, bold, sassy, even daring, I dare say!).

Runninng Press Kids, May 12, 2015
Author/illustrator Charlie Adler envisioned ducks quite differently. Her wryly named DAREDEVIL DUCK is entirely credible as both daredevil and "chicken". I received an advance copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

I recognized DUCK's conflict between a nature fraught with anxiety (cautiousness? outright fear?) and his identity-of-choice, the confident and adventurous DAREDEVIL DUCK. Kids feel these conflicting drives, torn between adventure and safety. So do many adults, myself included. 
Adler's artistic portrayal of Duck's dilemma extends beyond body language and facial expressions to (literally) lift off the page in a series of fold-out interactive flaps. The impact of peer taunts and cheers on Duck's confidence open doors to valuable conversations, too. The humor and irony are as light and bright as the colorful images with major "read it again" appeal.

Creator Charlie Adler was gracious enough to respond to some questions:

Q: Several posts have noted the role of Duck's tricycle and its relation to real life events. Can you tell us a little more about your son’s squeaky-red-tricycle exploits and how they inspired this story?

Adler: Well, my little boy, William received his shiny red tricycle as a third birthday present. It was so lovely, just like Daredevil Duck’s, (but it didn’t squeak!). William loved it too, he loved looking at it, and sitting on it… and then getting off it again! He was a very reluctant cyclist at age three, and was always convinced that some speed-related disaster might happen if he peddled too fast! When Daredevil Duck started to become a real character in my mind, I realized he was very similar to my little boy and it seemed only natural that he should have a super speedy, (slightly squeaky) tricycle too!

Q: Have you worked with fold-outs and interactive pages in other books? How does that function change your approach to illustration/storytelling?

Adler: I’ve worked with pop-up books before, but this was my first experience with fold-outs. You do have to put your inventor cap on, because not only are you telling a story and encouraging the children to turn the page, you also have to give them an incentive to lift or open a flap. It forces you to almost think of your story in another dimension, you have to lay a little breadcrumb trail of fun images and interesting sentences on your page so the child instinctively turns the flap. A little treasure hunt of words and pictures! 

So, a huge thank you to Charlie Adler for sharing her insights.
For more opinions from others, check out these posts on the DAREDEVIL DUCK blog tour:

By Charlie Alder  
Blog Tour Schedule 

5/10 ReaderKidz

Now on to another improbably over-cautious character, SCAREDY SQUIRREL, written and illustrated by Melanie Watt. Since she first introduced SCAREDY SQUIRREL in 2006, Watt has featured Scaredy Squirrel in eight titles (and counting). Scaredy Squirrel has reached international-icon status in the kid lit world- he is a plush character! 
Scaredy has developed strategies for coping with what he considers basic safety concerns. Some might suggest that Scaredy's concerns tend toward outlandish phobias. Therein lies the humor and appeal. Even Scaredy's forced smile suggests that his confident preventive measures are less than reassuring, yet he never gives up.

DUCK and SQUIRREL offer readers (of any age) role models who mirror their own fears. They also open a window to view inner strengths. Both have satisfying resolutions based on their deep-seated humanity and caring for others more than themselves. That altruistic impulse ultimately empowers both Duck and Squirrel to overcome their fears.

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