Penguins are cute and dogs may be man’s best friend, but chickens—with their goofy physicality and pretty pastel-colored eggs—are a seemingly never-ending source of material for children’s literature. From folktales about falling skies to the hilarious antics of a 200-pound chicken terrorizing the citizens of New Jersey (see Daniel Pinkwater’s classic The Hoboken Chicken Emergency), hens and roosters continue to inspire and provide much chuckle-worthy fodder. In Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer, Kelly Jones introduces a little girl who inherits several chickens with superpowers. For kids interested in the life cycle of a hen, Robin Page’s A Chicken Followed Me Home offers facts paired with vibrant diagrams. And for an egg-ceptional read aloud, try Julie Paschkis’s folk-art inspired P. Zonka Lays an Egg. Friends of the fowl rejoice!
Jones, Kelly. Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer. illus. by Katie Kath. 224p. Knopf. May 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780385755528; lib. ed. $19.99. ISBN 9780385755535; ebk. ISBN 9780385755542. LC 2013050736.
Gr 4-6 –Sophie Brown is new to farm life, new to being one of the only “brown people” in town (the others being her mother and Gregory, the mailman), and definitely new to caring for chickens—and these are some challenging chickens. To help herself adjust to life away from Los Angeles and her extended family, she writes letters to her great-uncle Jim and her beloved Abuelita, both recently deceased, and embarks on a correspondence course in poultry care with the mysterious Agnes of Redwood Farm Supply. Agnes’s poorly typed responses assure Sophie that the chickens that keep turning up on the farm (including Henrietta, a small white hen with a permanent unibrow of fury) belonged to her great-uncle, from whom Sophie’s father inherited the farm and who implores her to keep the chickens safe—and to be careful. But how will she protect chickens that are capable of levitating their own coop, becoming invisible, and turning enemies to stone? And why does the town’s resident chicken expert, Ms. Griegson, seem intent on stealing Sophie’s brood? Told in letters, quizzes, newspaper clippings, and delicious ink drawings reminiscent of Quentin Blake, this middle grade epistolary novel has a little magic and a lot of warm family humor. Jones delivers a dynamic Latina protagonist in Sophie, who describes her experiences in satisfying detail: the discomfort of facing microaggressions based on her heritage (such as when the town librarian assumes that she and her family are migrant workers); love and concern for her parents, both struggling to find and keep work; and willingness to learn and grow despite typical tween self-consciousness. VERDICTT Readers will cheer for Sophie and clamor for more of those amazing chickens. Exceptional, indeed.
Page, Robin. A Chicken Followed Me Home!: Questions and Answers About a Familiar Fowl! illus. by Robin Page. 40p. diag. ebook available. further reading. websites. S. & S./Beach Lane. May 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481410281. LC 2013041955.
PreS-Gr 2 –With a touch of humor, this well-designed title presents everything you always wanted to know about chickens—but didn’t know to ask. The book starts with an unnamed narrator who’s been followed home by a fowl, asking, “What do I do now?” After the hen eventually lays and hatches eggs and the chicks mature into adult hens, the child hopes that the creatures will “follow someone else home.” Along the way, readers are introduced to information on anatomy, care, and life cycle. A question begins each topic (“Will my chicken lay eggs?”) with keywords highlighted with larger, bolder type. Details are labeled or given small call-out illustrations. Digitally produced, the images are well integrated with the text and use highly textured shapes. Bright, solid color backgrounds alternate with white ones. Readers will find tons of fun and well-presented material; one page displays 260 eggs, the average number a hen lays in a year. A concluding spread of “More Chicken Questions” gives further detail and a list of more resources. VERDICT A charming addition to animal collections. Expect newly hatched domestic fowl enthusiasts to crow over this one.
Paschkis, Julie. P. Zonka Lays an Egg. illus. by Julie Paschkis. 32p. Peachtree. Mar. 2015. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781561458196. LC 2014006507.
K-Gr 3 –While other hens lay eggs regularly and the rooster crows encouragement, P. Zonka wanders through the farmyard observing the world around her. The hen marvels at the grass and sky and urges her friends to appreciate the flowers. After they persuade her to try to lay an egg, she produces a spectacular multicolored creation, incorporating patterns that she has seen and imagined. The artistic chicken’s name is no accident. An author’s note explains that a pysanka is a Ukrainian decorated egg. Vibrant watercolor illustrations bring to mind folk-art decor and Chagall paintings. They burst from the pages to draw viewers in to share P. Zonka’s delight with the colors and patterns of her world. The oversize format lends itself to read-aloud participation with follow-up decoration of real or paper eggs. Although Paschkis does not mention the tie of pysanka to Easter, those who want to make the connection to another culture’s Easter egg painting could also use Katherine Milhous’s The Egg Tree, the 1951 Caldecott winner. VERDICT A first-rate selection for most collections.
Patricelli, Leslie. Hop! Hop! illus. by Leslie Patricelli. 26p. Candlewick. Feb. 2015. Board $6.99. ISBN 9780763663193. LC 201395782.
PreS –This is a charming anticipatory story of Easter through the eyes of a toddler. Patricelli’s oval-headed little tyke walks readers through the adventures of dying eggs, craft time, and an Easter egg hunt. In the end, his greatest surprise is finding out what Easter really means. Preschoolers will relate to the messy portrayal of the art project. They will also find it humorous when the toddler can’t find the many eggs during his hunt, even though they are quite obvious. During storytime, teachers or librarians could ask children to count the eggs available during the hunt and compare that to the number the toddler actually finds. The bald-headed baby, sleeping in bunny ears, cottony tail affixed to his diaper, contrasts with a shadow of the “real” Easter bunny busy leaving goodies by the door. This is illustrative magic. This very short board book includes 13 exclamation points; they are all warranted. VERDICT Preschoolers, parents, teachers, and librarians will be excited to “hop” to Patricelli’s latest.