BY David Ezra Stein
Published by: Scholastic Inc.
Received Caldecott Honor in 2011
Presentation by: Shari Shockney
The most obvious style Stein used in his
illustrations is the comic or cartoon art style.
A few of the cartoon elements are listed
Top picture: The chickens live in a
house, have exaggerated features, and
have a human quality to their
expressions. They also wear pajamas,
which will be seen in later pictures.
Middle picture: Hansel and Gretel are
nearly all circles and ovals, the witch’s
face is mostly nose, and a cartoon text
bubble is used for Chicken when she
jumps in to interrupt the story
Bottom picture: The characters are
illustrated to represent Chicken’s
illustrations of her own story. The
comic, or cartoon, element may still be
seen in Papa’s facial expression.
Stein used several different painterly media
to accomplish his work; water color, water
soluble crayon, china marker, pen, opaque
white ink, and tea. In doing so he manages
to show off his comic style in three
completely different ways.
Though the comic style is the most obvious in Stein’s illustrations, there also appears to be some
impressionism happening. In the above illustration of Chicken’s room the use of warm yellow gives the
appearance that the bedside lamp is casting a warm glow over the room, yet some of the room is still left in deep
shadows. The objects in the room are distinguishable as furniture, pictures, curtains and so on, but they have no
sharp lines or distinct patterns. All of this lends a sleepy, bedtime feeling to the room. The oversized books, which
bear no titles one may read, give the impression that bedtime stories are a big deal in the Chicken household.
In this illustration, Stein uses line
to draw the reader’s attention to a
wordless exchange between Chicken
and Papa. As Papa stands on his
reading stool the diagonal slant and
triangular shape of his body, as well as
the lines in his robe, draw the eye
toward his face and the accusing look
he is giving Chicken. From there one’s
eye easily moves past the glasses to
the end of his beak which is pointing
toward Chicken and the “Oops, I’m
busted” look on her face. The eye is
also able to draw an invisible line from
Papa’s eyes to Chicken’s and so may
easily catch the reader up in this
exchange of looks.
For the most part Stein
uses shape as most illustrators would.
The majority of shapes used to
illustrate Chicken and Papa, the
storybook characters, and
backgrounds such as the woods in
Little Red Riding Hood are all nicely
rounded to represent the organic
element while books, picture
frames, walls, and the wolf’s walking
stick are for the most part straighter
and more angular to show objects that
have been crafted.
An exception to the rule
of organic figures primarily being
made up of curved lines is found in the
illustrations that represent Chicken’s
illustrations of her own story.
Here, the figures of Papa and Chicken
are made to look like a child’s drawings
which are often made up of basic lines
and shapes, many of them without
curves where curves should be.
Stein makes excellent use of
color in his illustrations. The colors used
for Papa and Chicken are warm and
vibrant. Their surroundings, while a little
more muted, still have the warm yellow
glow to them.
The illustrations for the
storybooks are of a much duller hue.
They are done primarily in black and dull
brown with only one primary or
secondary color, also of a dull hue. All of
this is on a background the color of a tea
stain. This may seem very uninteresting
for what is supposed to be a child’s
storybook, but the effect is very striking
when bright and colorful Chicken jumps
into the scene to save the day for her
The use of color in the
illustrations of Chicken’s story was well
thought out by Stein. The colors are all of
the same bright hue one would find in a
basic crayon box. The shapes are drawn
with the crayons, but the figures are
outlined with color for the most part
rather than being colored in. The effect
reminds me of some of my
grandchildren’s first attempts at drawing.
There are several examples of texture on this two page spread, though
they are not as easily seen here as in the book. Because of the mixed media
Stein used he was able to create a look to Papa’s pajamas that suggests a fuzzy
flannel. Saturated color with highlights and smooth brush strokes give Papa’s tail
feathers a sleek and shiny appearance. The curved lines and shading in the
blanket make it seem to fall in soft folds from Papa’s hand down across the bed.
There are several ways in which Stein has used composition to balance illustration elements in this story.
• Asymmetrical Balance
The illustration above is not balanced in the
middle of the two page spread. The center of balance is
achieved in two ways: First, the brightness of the bedside
lamp draws the reader’s eyes to that portion of the
illustration and helps focus them on the faces of the two
characters. The second part of the balancing act is achieved
by the placement of objects and characters. Even though
Papa and the huge storybooks take up most of the space in
the illustration, Chicken, all of the furniture, and the picture
on the wall take up the rest of the space so that the
illustration does not seem weighed down on Papa’s side.
• Symmetrical Balance
Symmetrical balance is
achieved here with the placement
of characters. As Chicken jumps
into the middle of the story to
save the day, she is symmetrically
balanced by the placement of a
startled storybook character on
either side of her.
• Balancing Illustration with Text
Here Stein used text in
combination with the illustration in
order to balance out the page. The
text is centered down the middle of
the page and most of the illustration
is contained in an oval. There is text
both above and below the illustration
that further accomplishes balance.