The story of the little chick who panics has long been a childhood classic in America and elsewhere. It is satirical – see the post from Friday, April 10,for more on satire – and it is a cumulative tale – a story that builds upon repetition, “accumulating,” if you will, something new with each repetition. (The House That Jack Built is another example).
In Chicken Little, all of the animals have names that rhyme, and each name is repeated any time one of them is said in the tale, which makes it a great choice for early readers! The American story typically features an acorn falling on the chick’s head, which is actually from the Scots tradition. The first American version, The Remarkable Story of Chicken Little written and illustrated by John Greene Chandler in 1840, used a leaf from a rose bush. The Scots version told the story of Chicken Licken and introduced the acorn in 1842, and the name of the little chick seems to vary slightly depending on the country in which the story is told. Most versions seem to be based on a Danish language story published in 1823. The story is often referred to as “Henny Penny” and you can find an interesting article about it in Wikipedia complete with a chart that compares the different versions.
In all of the tales, the chick panics and jumps to conclusions rather than finding the facts, and starts a panic in the other animals.
If you’ve read or heard The Jataka Tales, you know that the tale is over two centuries old. That version features a hare who starts a stampede of animals when he is frightened and it is a wise lion who teaches the panicked animals deductive reasoning to calm their fears. Unfortunately for the poultry, the western versions don’t all end as well!
After reading a version of the story (or listening to it below), why not make your own Chicken Little puppet play? Draw faces for each of the characters and then cut them out and tape them to your fingers. This will help you to remember the order of the animals when you name them. Drape a scarf over a stack of books or a shoebox and let the puppets pop up from behind. Have fun with the story by making changes: What if Chicken Little had reached the king? What would happen then? Would the king believe them or not? Would the king call out an army or lead an investigation or dig a tunnel under the castle or find a cool hiding place? What do you think? Tell the story different ways to test each ending and vote as a family for the one you like the best.