Tuesday, May 29

The Rain Puddle

by Adelaide Holl   
pictures by Roger Duvoisin
Lothrop, Lee & Shepard 1965

The barnyard is once again astir when the little red hen convinces the other animals that a puddle contains their drowned doppelgangers!

Coming across a puddle a plump hen catches sight of her reflection and assumes that another bird has fallen and needs rescuing. One by one the hen convinces the cow, sheep, pig, turkey, horse and others that their reflections are others who have fallen in. And as they rush about trying to find help the puddle dries up and they all assume the trapped animals were freed and part of the melee. Once it is over only an owl sitting on a branch above it all chuckles to himself.

Falling squarely in the tradition of dumb animals who apparently drink water to survive but cannot fathom their own reflection without resorting to illogical panic, the one upside of this book are the illustrations by Duvoisin. The use of the blank white page to serve as the puddle, drawn from a high, almost flat plane, is simplicity at its most brilliant. He's taken the artist's ability to see that the water doesn't need to be represented, only the reflection, and in that the white highlight and forced perspective are best represented by white space. It's almost zen, this absence-as-presence, and really the only reason to read this book.

Aw, that sounded harsh. I don't mean to imply that the story itself is entirely without merit, except that if it were more traditionally rendered there is little to distinguish it from countless other similar fables. With the reflections beneath a translucent blue water – as we might imagine water to be represented in a traditional illustration – we lose the power of the negative space and the sense of how brilliant and realistic the reflections are for the animals. The simple eloquence of the illustrations compensates for the busy cut-a-cuts! gobble-obble-obbles! mooo-mooos! and oink-oinks! cluttering the text.

Perhaps okay for lap-sitters if you run across a copy at the library, but a must for illustrators looking to learn at the feet of a master.
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