Revisiting: Chris Raschka’s Arlene Sardine

Then she was smoked, delicately. She was delicately smoked. Delicately smoked was she.

Those are my favorite lines from dual Caldecott Medalist Chris Rachka’s Arlene Sardine. When this story, about a little fish who wants to be a sardine, was published way back in 1998 it created a fair amount of controversy given the fact that the title character dies mid-way though the book. Some thought it hilarious (count me among them), some thought it dreadful, and some were simply perplexed. (You can listen to Daniel Pinkwater and Scott Simon read and discuss it here and you can see several pages of the book by clicking on Amazon’s Look Inside feature.) I adore it partly, no doubt, due to having seen Chris do his puppet show version where he blew powder over the can for the lines above and involved the audience which delighted the children, as you can imagine. But I also love the art work and the smart, witty, and spare text. For me, it is part of a genre of subversive children’s books that we adults can never quite figure out — are they meant to be straight serious or straight humorous?  Strewelpeter very much fits this tradition for me; I see both books as tongue-in-cheek funny as well as meant to get readers thinking. In the case of Arlene Sardine I’d say the thinking part is about death and about our food. Chris has explained that the genesis of the book came from his eating sardines and wondering how they ended up in the can. Seems to me we are kidding ourselves if we don’t think kids wonder about that too.

Related:

In the Classroom: Chris Rashka

Deliciously Demented Books

Pets and Other Fishy Books (This is an article I did for Horn Book in which, among other things, I describe a class of mine not getting Arlene Sardine. Classes since then have loved it in the same way they love the snipping of the bunny tails in Bunny Days and other such books. More on my thoughts as to why here.)

Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast Interview with Chris Rashka

Chris Raschka and His Round-the-World Sardine “Arlene” (Found in the comments to this post. Pinkwater weighs in too.)

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Revisiting: Chris Raschka’s Arlene Sardine

  1. fairrosa

    Yay. Glad that you posted this — I thoroughly relished reading this book out loud to both children and adults and since I presented it always as a hilarious and thoughtful book, the direct reactions I got seemed to always be positive ones: the listeners totally “got” the humorous and the informative ends of the tale. Of course — it is quite dark, since we are introduced to a fish with a NAME and she DIES and has always wished to BE dead/eaten. Some people were outraged because they insisted that Chris had created a book about the taboo topic of suicide for little children….

  2. Love this book and I had forgotten about it. Need to dig around on my shelves and find it. Thanks:-)

  3. I totally agree, Monica! It’s a great book, even if it is slightly outrageous.
    So glad you posted this!

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