Cuteness Contest: Who Will Win?

We Adopted a Baby Chick – written and illustrated by Lori Joy Smith
Tundra Books, 2022

If you think it’s not a contest, ask Albert, the sheep was adopted in Lori Jay Smith’s, We Adopted a Baby Lamb. Just as he has become comfortable in his loving family of Mom, Dad, Sosi, Ila, and their four pets, a spoiler appears in the form of Tina, a baby chick.  Acutely aware that maximum cuteness has a shelf life (“I used to be tiny once too, but not anymore.”), Albert is frustrated by his displacement.  This natural feeling of insecurity is the book’s focus, but Smith refrains from soothing moralisms about parents loving each offspring equally. Instead, she builds a totally child-friendly story where any metaphors are subtle.

Start with the title.  Instead of a suggesting insecurity, it states what happened. They adopted a baby chick.  Predictably, that chick is adorable, while Albert has grown bigger and clumsy enough to have broken his own horn.  Once Tina grows into a chicken, you might think the pressure would be off Albert, but his subjective feelings of being ousted remain. 

Understandably, Tina’s move into the barn with him only emphasizes that he is not the only farm animal to earn the family’s affection. Even their dog, who used to be his friend, seems to have abandoned him.  Soon, Albert is deeply convinced that every creature he knows, including the birds who are not even officially pets, prefers Tina.  Once she won the cuteness contest, in Albert’s eyes, life will never be fair again.

In pictures a bit reminiscent of Lauren Child’s but much sweeter, Smith creates a believable family, from the hipster dad to the nurturing sisters, Only the introduction of an external danger could change this idyllic scene, one so nearly perfect that no one will, except a child who has experienced the same emotions, will believe that Albert is neglected. 

Albert gets to be a superhero! Children who have followed Albert’s dilemma will not see him returned to preeminence in the family. His new self-image is the reward, as he acknowledges Tina’s appeal: “Everyone likes to be around her.”  Smith’s ability to both challenge and reward expectations makes this appealing and utterly unpretentious book a valuable new take on being the cutest in the family, and then graduating to a different role.  Whoever came first, the chicken, the egg, or the lamb, no longer matters.

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