WHAT THE LADYBUG HEARD
There are good picture books, and then there are picture books that are so good they ring like the ping of good china. WHAT THE LADYBUG HEARD by Julia Donaldson has the ring of the very best china. A large part of its ping (if you will) is Donaldson’s use of sound, pattern and rhythm.
The text begins in verse as it introduces the multiple farm characters including “a ladybug who never said a word.” Donaldson then identifies each animal by the sound it makes (moo, cluck etc) and still works in rhyme. By introducing these animal sounds Donaldson also follows Chekhov’s famous maxim: If you show a gun in act one you better shoot it by act three. But, of course, we don’t know that until the conclusion.
Donaldson uses rhyme to link her list of characters to story’s conflict.
“And one cat meowed while the other one purred…
and the ladybug never said a word.
But the ladybug saw,
And the ladybug heard…”
What the ladybug heard is a plan to steal the prize cow. When she finally speaks she echoes the rhymed plan just as she heard it from the robbers. Donaldson then brings the story back to its chorus—
And the cow said, “MOO!”
And the hen said, “CLUCK!”
“HISS!” said the goose
and “QUACK!” said the duck.
“NEIGH!” said the horse.
“OINK!” said the hog.
“BAA!” said the sheep.
“WOOF!” said the dog.
Concern. Suspense. Then the miniature hero makes her move.
But the ladybug told them not to fear,
And she whispered her plan into every ear.
Donaldson provides a sense of direction, but readers can only hope. It is at this point that the author shoots the proverbial gun identified in act one. The litany of animal sounds (with an ingenious twist) turns out to be the winning plan that saves the cow and captures the thieves.
The thieves are taken away, and it’s back to the chorus of animal sounds again. But despite what the ladybug heard and said and planned, the story ends full circle just as it began. All the animals and the farmer shout their cheers: But the ladybug never said a word.
WHAT THE LADYBUG HEARD by Julia Donaldson. Illus. by Lydia Monks. Holt, 2010.