Last spring I was sipping coffee in Monk’s Rock Café, my favorite Kodiak (Alaska) coffee shop, when my writer/librarian eyes lit on a small treasure – just 4.5” by 4.5” -- tucked into a display basket. The silhouette of a white chicken pranced on a yellow background. What could this be?
I opened the hand-bound pages of The Great Chicken Escape to find a simple but evocative wordless story in black-and-white about the adventures of a cat, some hens and some nuns.
Now nuns might seem like an odd component for a children’s book, unless you’re sitting in Monk’s Rock Café. The coffee house and bookstore is associated with St. Innocent’s Academy, a Russian Orthodox school and residential community in Kodiak. An author’s note in the back of the book explains that Nikki McClure, the author and artist, lived for a time with the nuns on nearby Spruce Island in a small Russian Orthodox monastery. McClure ends her note, which briefly describes daily life through the seasons on Spruce Island, with thanks for the community’s “immeasurable gifts.”
Perhaps it was the habits of the nuns that inspired McClure’s choice of color palette. In any case, her use of white and black space is creative and engaging, with some occasionally stunning designs. I particularly love the close-up of the cat stalking the chicken (below); and the beautiful final spread of white and black hens sleeping under a starry sky.
At first glance I assumed the art was of wood or linoleum block prints. Not being an artist, however, I wasn’t sure. Plus I was curious about this Nikki McClure: who is she? What does she do? So of course I searched her name online.
It turns out that Nikki McClure (http://www.nikkimcclure.com/) is a paper-cut artist who lives in Olympia, Washington. She makes posters, books, cards, t-shirts, and calendars, as well as designs covers for books and recordings. She also illustrates for magazines and – I knew it! – children’s books! Nikki has conceived and illustrated seven of her own stories, as well as illustrated All in a Day for Newbery award author Cynthia Rylant. (Follow the “Projects” link on her site to learn more about her books.)
I'm glad to see that McClure is using her paper-cut talents for storytelling. And gratified to know she finds inspiration, like so many of us do, in the beauty of the Northern landscape.