La Paz is a very lively, noisy village until the villagers elect a new mayor. Silence reigns for seven years under the restrictive Don Pepe, until the arrival of a determined and courageous rooster who loves to sing.
Open this book and you’re flung into the hustle and bustle of life in the village of La Paz. The first double spread is a riot of colour and activity in both the text and illustrations: bells ring, tea kettles whistle, cymbals crash, people sing. But the villagers find it too noisy and Don Pepe, their newly-elected mayor, soon puts a stop to the hubbub. He starts with a fairly innocuous ruling: ‘NO LOUD SINGING IN PUBLIC, POR FAVOR.’ But his laws rapidly become more restrictive, more demanding and more direct until La Paz is a village where silence reigns and ‘Even the teakettles were afraid to whistle.’
Nobody and nothing stands up to Don Pepe. Those villagers who want to make noise leave La Paz to set up home elsewhere, and the years pass. And then, we witness the arrival of a plucky rooster who is not afraid to challenge the status quo. For this rooster, like most roosters, is born to sing. And sing he does, very loudly, ‘Kee-kee-ree-KEE!’ And so begins a wonderful sequence of events where Don Pepe tries to lay down the law and restrict the rooster’s options – home, food, family, light – while the rooster stands firm.
As battle ensues, it is clear that the rooster is the stronger character. His words and actions are measured, logical and consistent. He always has an answer for the mayor, even when he is thrown in a cage and placed in darkness under threat of death: ‘I may sing a darker song . . . But. I. Will. Sing.’ Don Pepe, by contrast, is shown lacking in control. He snaps and snarls; he asks the rooster how he should be punished: ‘Will you sing if I throw you in a cage — alone?’
The illustrations add depth and humour to the two very different personalities. The colourful rooster is all poise and posture, with his glorious feathers, strong beak and determined gaze. Agra Deedy often refers to him as the gallito, which can also mean ‘tough guy’ according to my online Spanish dictionary – a nice additional layer of meaning! With his green-tinged skin, droopy hair, spindly legs and arms and pathetic poses, Don Pepe becomes increasingly more absurd as the story advances. My daughters love the illustration where he lies on his back, hands on his belly, beaked nose in the air, struggling with indigestion. Eugene Yelchin’s mixed-media artwork has a childlike simplicity about it, but it is a style which is both attractive and powerful.
But what happens next, I hear you cry? Does the rooster win or the ridiculous mayor? The plucky rooster, of course! And it’s a brilliant victory as he rallies the hitherto silent villagers to his cause and unites them in song against Don Pepe.
The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet! is an entertaining and perceptive picture book about the beauty of courage and the importance of standing up for freedom. It works fabulously as a read-aloud: Kee-kee-ree-KEE! As an allegory, the story encourages older readers to reflect on restrictive rulings and societies, freedom of speech, and people’s inability to question the status quo.
The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet! by Carmen Agra Deedy, illustrated by Eugene Yelchin (Scholastic Press, 2017)
Carmen Agra Deedy was born in Havana, Cuba and moved to the United States as a refugee in 1962. She is a multi-award-winning children’s author of many books, including Martina and the Beautiful Cockroach and 14 Cows for America. She is also passionate supporter of libraries. Carmen Agra Deedy lives in Georgia, United States.
Eugene Yelchin is an author, illustrator, painter and conceptual artist. Born in Russia, he branched into illustration work after emigrating to the United States and has illustrated children’s books for many leading publishers. His middle grade novel Breaking Stalin’s Nose was named a Newbery Honour Book in 2012. Eugene Yelchin lives in California, United States.