Chickadee: Criminal Mastermind
Chickadee: Criminal Mastermind
The forest has a criminal. A real rapscallion and all-around bad seed.
[Speech bubble] Me.
And no one knows who I am, because ...
[Speech bubble] I wear a mask. [Accompanied by] CHICKA DEE DEE DEE!
I know what you’re thinking. “How could you have fallen into a life of crime, Chickadee?”
[Speech bubble] This is my story.
In this delightful avian “autobiography”, the book’s narrator tells his audience of listening forest animals (and readers) that he was hatched into a good home with loving parents who taught him necessary life lessons, including how to find food and avoid dangers, with the two key points related to the latter being “never to leave the safety of the forest” and to avoid houses. After a long and happy childhood (of 16 days), the young chickadee leaves home, “free as a bird”, and enjoys his solitary summer and fall day, but, when winter arrives, he has difficulty locating food in the forest, and, not remembering his parents’ warning, he leaves the woods and begins his crime spree among houses where he finds a “vault of gold[en seeds]” and steals from it, becoming, in his mind, “The King of Thieves”. His apparently ill-gotten treasure he hides in numerous places, but then he encounters two children near the “vault” and overhears them referring to the vault as “the feeder”. When he consults the term’s meaning in his underwing dictionary, he discovers that he’s really not a rapscallion after all and is “just a little bird being a bird”. During his crime spree, the little bird had found himself quite lonely, but now that he can go straight, he hopes that he can make a friend.
Silvie’s fun text is wonderfully complemented and extended by Ellis’ somewhat anthropomorphic cartoon style illustrations that are filled with action and expression. For example, when Chickadee’s berry necklace-wearing mother tells him that “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day”, Ellis completes the text by showing what that breakfast could consist of, and the worried expressions on the faces of a worm and two bugs, plus the postures of the bugs who are trying to quietly slip away, clearly show that they are not pleased at being potential menu items. And Ellis also answers the chickadee’s closing friendship concern with a spread featuring the book’s narrator at one end of a tree branch and another chickadee at the other end. That this second chickadee has a bow in her “hair” and introduces herself as Dee Dee suggests that romance could be in the air; however, Dee Dee’s adding, via a thought bubble, “And I am a spy”, could lead to an entirely different conclusion.
Back matter consists of the two-page “Facts about the Marvelous Black-Capped Chickadee” and a single page of “Select Sources, with the latter referencing books and websites, while the former provides the hard evidence to confirm the soft facts imbedded in the book’s text. For example, some readers may have doubted that these small birds live year round in Canada, but this section explains chickadees’ techniques for coping with the cold. Similarly, Chickadee’s hiding his loot in various places might have appeared to be just a throwaway plot element, one without any basis in fact. Not so!
BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEES HAVE SURPRISING BRAINS
In the fall, chickadees begin hiding food in multiple places (called “caching”). They can remember hundreds of caches. How can they do it? The number of brain cells in their hippocampus (the area of the brain responsible for spatial memory) increases in winter.
Chickadee: Criminal Mastermind, Silvie’s first children’s book, is a fine example of edutainment in which young readers are both entertained and informed.
Dave Jenkinson, CM’s editor, lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where he enjoys the cheerful sounds of black-capped chickadees all year round.