Sure, you could call a rooster “noisy.” But might it be a titch more spot-on to say he “would not be quiet”?
Word choice matters — especially in children’s books. “There isn’t a word for what you are trying to say,” says Carmen Agra Deedy. “There is the word.” She was delighted to come up with “warbled,” as in “fountains warbled,” when writing her new picture book. She loved the “birdlike” idea for the water’s sweet sound.
At the 11th hour, “make that two minutes before midnight,” Scholastic Press changed the title of this latest from Deedy, the much-loved Georgia children’s author and internationally known storyteller.
“The Noisy Little Rooster” was the almost-title of her allegorical tale about a crazy-loud (yet happy) village that fires its mayor and hires a new one to instill peace and quiet. The village of La Paz gets quiet, all right: The cranky, unyielding new mayor demands complete and utter silence that drags on for years. “Even the teakettles were afraid to whistle.”
Then one night, a rooster — “a saucy gallito” — wanders into La Paz and settles in a mango tree outside the mayor’s window. Come morning, he croons: “Kee-kee-ree-KEE!” (The Spanish word for “cock-a-doodle-doo!” is “¡qui-qui-ri-quí!”)
Before “Rooster” went to press, Deedy, a frequent visitor to schools everywhere, previewed her tale for a class of “rowdy” third-graders at Knight Elementary School in Lilburn. That’s when it hit her.
“I realized the rooster wasn’t just noisy — all roosters are noisy. And he wasn’t attempting to be a hero, or to silence anyone else. He just needed to sing. It’s what roosters do.”
The title of her book became “The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet!” In part, Deedy has those rowdy third-graders to thank. They voted overwhelmingly for that one, rather than the “Noisy” option.
In the story, the mayor tries to silence the “plucky gallito” by taking things away from him. The mayor chops down the mango tree, takes away food, and so on. Yet the rooster keeps singing.
The rooster is not named — he could be you, or anyone. “He is the most unintentionally heroic character,” says Deedy, 56. “He just wants to sing because it’s his nature. If he doesn’t or can’t sing, he is a rooster no more.”
Reviewers have been crowing nicely over Deedy’s latest, which boasts bright, humorous and wonderfully expressive mixed-media paintings by Eugene Yelchin, an award-winning author and illustrator. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly noted that “like the gallito’s cries … Deedy’s message about speaking up and speaking out rings as clearly as a bell.”
Born in Cuba, Deedy in 1963 relocated as a toddler with her parents and older sister to Decatur. She grew up in a “noisy” household “where everyone had three opinions. My sister and I were observers of this glorious thing called rhetoric.”
Deedy’s stories are rooted in folk tales and multiculturalism. Among her previous picture-book hits, all from Atlanta’s Peachtree Publishers: “The Library Dragon,” “The Yellow Star: The Legend of King Christian X of Denmark,” “Martina the Beautiful Cockroach,” and the New York Times best-seller “14 Cows for America,” inspired by a true story (upon learning about the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, a very poor Maasai tribe in Kenya bestowed 14 cows upon the United States).
Start talking about children’s books with Carmen Deedy and brace yourself for serious passion.
The effervescent storyteller, who lives in Stone Mountain, shouts out titles like they are long-lost loves of her life. “Tikki Tikki Tembo”! “Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile”! “The Poky Little Puppy”! Also, “Ferdinand the Bull”! That 1936 story about a small bull that doesn’t want to snort and butt heads like other bulls was banned in Spain and Germany, accused by some of being political propaganda at the onset of the Spanish Civil War.
But Ferdinand’s story, which gently nudges youngsters to follow their own path, has stood the test of time. “What I love about Ferdinand,” Deedy says, adding a strong sigh, “is that he just wanted to sit in a meadow and smell the flowers.”
What message does Deedy hope her “Rooster” carries?
“Sing, children, sing!” cries the author, mother of three grown daughters who now adores sharing stories with four grandchildren.
She calls stories “the connective tissue that binds one person to the next, and to the next, and me to you.”
“Stories show us how to be brave when we’re fearful, charitable when we’re inclined to be cruel, and steadfast when we stumble. They give us a map to help chart our course as we navigate a world that is often unpredictable and at times treacherous.”
MEET THE AUTHOR
“The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet!” by Carmen Agra Deedy, illustrated by Eugene Yelchin, Scholastic Press, $17.99
Deedy is to appear at two upcoming public events:
March 25: Georgia Symphony Orchestra Celebrity Luncheon in Kennesaw. Deedy is keynote speaker. Noon-3 p.m. $45. 470-344-4763, www.georgiasymphony.org/gso-celebrity-luncheon-2015/.
March 31-April 1: Georgia Mountain Storytelling Festival at Young Harris College in Young Harris. Deedy is scheduled to perform at 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. March 31, and at 11:15 a.m. April 1. She’ll offer a workshop at 1:30 p.m. March 31. General admission $20, or $35 for two-day pass. 706-379-5136, www.yhc.edu/storytelling.
For updated information on Deedy’s appearances, or to book the author for a school visit or storytelling: www.carmenagradeedy.com.