October 20, 2014

Telephone by Mac Barnett

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 1:18 am by suebe2

by Mac Barnett
illustrated by Jen Corace
Chronicle Books

The message starts with a mother pigeon, complete with apron and hot dish, asking a young cardinal to tell Peter that he needs to fly home for dinner.  The cardinal repeats the message to a goose who repeats it to an ostrich and so on until it gets to a wise old owl.  The problem is that with each repetition, a whole new message is created ranging from “Tell Peter: put your wet socks in the dryer” to “Tell Peter: Something smells like fire.”

The adult reading this story won’t be surprised when the message is garbled.  Obviously, this is a game of telephone.  With our vast experience, we know that it will only get worse and worse.  What we don’t see coming is the surprise ending when the message gets to Owl.

Jen Corace’s illustrations are watercolor, ink, gouache, and pencil on paper.  Her birds are easily recognizable — the owl is clearly an owl and no one would mistake the turkey for anything but a turkey.  But she also anthropomorphizes them, creating a great sense of fun.  Mom Pigeon, in her apron and with dinner in wing, is clearly Mom.  In all black and white, the ostrich is a French maid.  The mallard is a bit of a good ol’ boy.  Each bird transforms the message into something that reflects his or her own interests.

As always Barnett’s text is a little wacky and a lot fun.  All of the birds relaying this message are perched on top of the telephone lines.

This story would make a great read aloud for story time or a group.  Expect young listeners to call out the original message, or at least their version of the original message, as the birds venture farther and farther from the truth.  You could also use this in the classroom for a not-so-subtle lesson on repeating what you hear, or think you heard, but it won’t help that in the end Owl gets the message right – yet another topic for discussion.  How could owl get it right when every-bird else got it wrong?


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