Wednesday, June 8

Who, Said Sue, Said Whoo?

written and illustrated by Ellen Raskin  
Atheneum  1973  

As Sue drives her jalopy she encounters any number of creatures that say any number of things, but the chitter-chatter mystery sends them running for cover.  And then there's that moral...   

In this cumulative story a young woman drivers her car across the landscape encountering any number of sounds. Each page answers the mystery of the sound from before while adding a new one to the coda that asks "The who, said Sue / Said chitter-chitter-chatter..." Throughout it isn't always obvious for readers to guess the animal making the noises – a cow says moo, but a goose goes "quitter-quatter," sounds mostly chosen for their rhythm within the story. In the end it turns out the chitter-chitter-chatter was coming from the engine compartment of the car... and made by a skunk, which sends the collected animals and Sue running.  

Were the book to end there it would be serviceable, certainly no worse than any number of picture books put out today, but Raskin leaves the reader with an interesting parting thought in the form of a moral. As the skunk drives off in Sue's car accompanied by a chimp with a cold the words "Moral: Words aren't everything" hang above the illustration. If the book's central question was in understanding the sounds different creatures made, only to discover that sometimes there are much greater mysteries afoot, what are we to make of the chimp and skunk taking off together? It's clear the implication that the chimp cannot smell the skunk and thus has nothing to fear, but were we supposed to be afraid of these unusual noises before discovering their origin?  This isn't clear, and the disconnect between this last line, the rest of the text, and the imagery is confusing at best.  

Raskin again provides textured line drawings and bold colors surrounded by a lot of white space, in addition to the smaller 7 by 8 inch size. The book is intimate and cute but in its efforts to moralize comes up short and unsatisfying.

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