FICTION

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.
COPY ISBN
RedReviewStarGr 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.
VERDICT Readers will cheer for Sophie and clamor for more of those amazing chickens. Exceptional, indeed.

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