As I searched for books to share with campers this summer and as I put them away, I kept seeing picture books featuring chickens. Two of my recent acquisitions are also picture books that talk about chickens. I do not know how poultry flew to the top of interesting picture books, but they seem to be everywhere. Here are some of the best of the flock.
Chickens to the Rescue by John Himmelman is a joy to read aloud. Make sure everyone can see the illustrations showing the chickens in swimsuits as they rescue things down the well or showing amazing strength as they stop the pick-up and save a cow stuck in the tree because they are half the story. Listeners are soon chanting along "Chickens to the rescue!" whenever the humans or other farm animals have another problem. They won't be prepared for the twist at the end.
The Chicken of the Family by Mary Amato will likely strike a chord with anyone who has an older sibling who was not immune to some heavy duty teasing. I can easily imagine my older brother convincing his rather gullible little sister that she is, in fact, a chicken. The older sisters in this charming story go to the extent of putting eggs and some feathers in their sister's bed. She gets the last laugh and they get in trouble with Mom and Dad.
The Plot Chickens by Mary Jane Auch features a book loving chicken who decides that she should write a book. She solicits the aid of three quirky hens and sets to work. Alas, publishers are less than excited about books by chickens. The entire story is filled with puns and plays on words that add fun to the working plot. That alone would make this a book worth reading, but there is the added bonus that it works as an good introduction to the writing process from start finish. Use it as a reference when writing a story of your own.
Speaking of chickens who like books, Book! Book! Book! by Deboarh Bruss turns an old joke about a chicken in the library into a full story with plenty of conflict. There is plenty of humor, too, as the farm animals head to the library--they are lonely and bored when all the kids go off to school--and try to ask for a book. The librarian can't interpret "Neigh, neigh" or "Bow Wow" but she knows just what to do when the chicken says, "Book! Book! Book!" (or "Bawk! Bawk! Bawk!). This is a story made for telling and dramatization.
The Featherless Chicken Chih-Yuan Chen offers a moral of acceptance of all, even those who look very different and have no sense of style. It is the wonderful, amusing illustrations that make the book soar above its moral to include humor and interesting discussion possibilities. It is never preachy and always fun.
Stuck int he Mud by Jane Clarke also plays with a familiar theme. We all know the story of a giant vegetable that requires everyone in the neighborhood to pull it out of the ground. In this telling of the tale, it is a little chick who is appears to be stuck in the mud. Its worried mother summons everyone to help save her baby. The twist at the end will bring smiles all around, except, perhaps, for the mother hen.
The Minerva Louise series by Janet Morgan Stoeke also plays with the unexpected. In this case it is the confusion that Minerva Louise, a chicken, has with the items that her farm family has around. Start the school year with Minerva Louise at School and then follow her escapades as she finds a hat, a friend, or decorations for Christmas and Easter.
If you have a high tolerance for puns and almost painfully bad jokes, you will enjoy two books by Kevin O'Malley. I find that fourth and fifth graders are the best audiences for Gimme Cracked Corn and I Will Share and Animal Crackers Fly the Coop. Both books are retelling of familiar folk tales with a twist that will keep readers laughing and groaning at the steady flow of jokes as they gradually realized what tale is really being told. They shout out, "Hey, isn't this that story about, you know, those animals who scare the crooks?" Yes, they are right, of course.
The most serious book on this is Ruler of the Courtyard by Rukhsana Khan which takes place in Pakistan. A little girl is afraid of the chickens in her courtyard so she scurries to get to the bath house. She tells herself that she must be brave but it is difficult. While working up the courage to recross the courtyard she spies what she is sure is a snake just a few feet from her feet. When she gets the courage to deal with the snake, she realizes that chickens are not as scary as she thought they were. The illustrations are bright and bold, capturing both the tensions and the relief that this charming girl feels.
My two newest additions are among the most appealing books I have encountered recently.
Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein will ring true to anyone who knows someone who interrupts. The young chicken wants a bedtime story but every time his father starts a familiar story, the chicken interrupts with a quick finish for the story. When father suggests that the interrupting young one tell the story, there is a flurry of activity as the story gets scribbled into a notebook. I especially like the colorful illustrations of the story itself juxtaposed with drab pictures in the storybook. The interruptions jump right into the storybook itself.
The Chicken Thief by Beatrice Rodriguez has no words at all but tells an adventurous tale of a chicken taken from its friends by a fox. The detailed illustrations follow the fox as her runs off with his catch with her friends, a bear, a rabbit, and a rooster, in hot pursuit. The surprise ending is just what I wanted to happen and should thrill young readers who are sure to pour over this book again and again, creating their own explanations of what is happening between the chicken and her friends and then when she is with the fox.
Enjoy a chicken book or two. They will have you clucking for more.