The Chickens Build a Wall by Jean-Francois Dumont
The chickens on the farm have built a wall but no one else is quite sure why. It started when the hedgehog suddenly appeared in the middle of the farm. The chickens were all very concerned about this strange new animal that quickly curled itself into a prickly ball. But most alarming was when it had disappeared the next morning. Perhaps it was after the chicks and eggs! None were missing, but that didn’t stop the hens from accusing the hedgehog of eating their worms. The rooster decided that they could not stand by and have this continue happening, so they leapt into action and built a wall. It was not just a small wall, but one that grew so high that one could not see where it ended in the sky. Can this wall save the chickens? And what is it saving them from exactly?
Dumont tells a story about flighty chickens who jump to absurd conclusions immediately about a foreign creature. The hens are frantic in their reactions, going to such lengths to protect themselves from nothing at all. Readers will see parallels between gated communities and the chickens’ wall as well as the fast judgments made about people who are different from ourselves. This would serve as a very nice book to introduce for discussions about diversity and community.
Dumont’s illustrations have a wonderful silliness to them. The chickens are pop-eyed and always moving quickly. The hedgehog is still, low and quiet. The two set each other off nicely in both the illustrations and the storyline.
Translated from the original French, this book has a universal appeal and also a clever quirkiness that adds charm. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.
The Loopy Coop Hens: Letting Go by Janet Morgan Stoeke
This is the third Loopy Coop Hens book and it continues the silly adventures of these three goofy hens. Here the question is why apples fall. The hens think that it is probably the fox hiding in the tree and throwing apples at them. They try to get Rooster Sam to help them, but he is so traumatized by the falling apples almost hitting him, that he runs away. The hens know that it is up to them, so Dot volunteers to climb up the ladder to see what is going on and whether it is a fox or not. Dot heads to the top of the tree and discovers two things: why apples fall and how gorgeous the view is that high up.
Stoeke has a real touch for the absurd and silly. In her flighty hens, she demonstrates how even the silliest can also be the brave ones. Her art is simple-lined and really tells a lot of the story along with the words. The book works well as a read-aloud and the pictures are large enough to work well with a group.
This is a simple chapter book in the guise of a picture book, inviting beginning readers to give it a try. Even better, it ends with chickens falling out of trees! A perfect addition for fall and apple story times and units. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books.
Busy-Busy Little Chick by Janice N. Harrington, illustrated by Brian Pinkney
Mama Nsoso and her chicks needed a new home. They spent each night shivering and cold in their dark, damp nest. So Mama Nsoso said that tomorrow they would start work on their new home. But the first day, Mama Nsoso found worms to eat and decided to eat rather than build a house. The family shivered through another night. The next day there were crickets to eat and no work was done. Except by Little Chick who set out to gather grasses and mud to create their new home. His hard work resulted in a fine new home for them, and then he was off finding himself some delicious bugs to eat.
Harrington writes like a storyteller. Her words flow beautifully when shared aloud. She has reworked a classic fable from the Nkundo people of Central Africa and throughout has woven in Lunkundo words from their language. She has also added lots of sounds to the book, so there are wonderful patterns that emerge as the hen and her chicks move through their day. She clearly enjoys wordplay and creating rhymes and rhythms, all of which make for a great book to share aloud.
Pinkney’s art is large and bold, filled with warm yellows and oranges. He has created images of the hen and her little family isolated and floating in cold blues. They are brilliant orange, evoking the warmth of family and shelter. His art is simple but filled with moving lines and playfulness with white space.
A great pick for spring story times, don’t be chicken to share this one. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Little Chick and Mommy Cat by Marta Zafrilla, illustrated by Nora Hilb
Little Chick has been raised by Mommy Cat since she was still in an egg. When Little Chick was very small, he thought that he was a cat too. He tried to be a cat, but it didn’t work. He couldn’t meow, or lick his paws or flick his tail. His mother explained to him that he was not a cat, but a chick and his real mother was a hen. When the two of them would go out, others would stare at them because they were different. His mother told him that it’s not bad to be different, what is bad is to want to be like everyone else. His mother also made sure to give him time to be with other chicks by taking him to the Bird School so he could learn everything he needed to about being a chicken. The other chicks asked him all sorts of questions because his mother was so different from the others. Little Chick though is happy to be part of his different but very loving family.
This picture book speaks directly to the issues of diversity and different types of families. It will also be happily embraced by families who have adopted children, because it manages to explain clearly and with no hesitation the basic love and acceptance of diversity in adoptive families. Small children will respond to the animal characters but easily also draw connections to themselves.
Zafrilla’s text is straight forward, tackling larger issues and bringing them to a level that small children will easily understand. She builds an unlikely family and happily shows the love and attachment between a cat and a chick. This is a book that is unlikely to be read as a straight animal story, because the connection to adoption is so clear. That said, the clarity and honesty here is what makes it shine.
Hilb’s illustrations add a colorful touch to the story. The colored pencil illustrations use delicate lines and soft colors to tell the story. The feathers and fur beg to be petted with their textures. Hilb maintains the size difference throughout the story, further emphasizing the differences between the cat and her chick.
This picture book focuses on diversity, love and the many forms it can come in. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Independent Publishers Group.
One Little Chicken by Elka Weber, illustrated by Elisa Kleven
When Leora finds a chicken has wandered into their house, her mother reminds her that finders aren’t keepers. When her father returns from work, he agrees. But it is their duty to take care of the chicken until its rightful owners claim it. So, they build a chicken coop. When the hen lays eggs, they do not eat them but the eggs hatch into chicks. Soon there are chicks everywhere. So they take them to market and sell them for coins that they use to purchase a little goat. They milk the goat, turn the milk into cheese, but again do not eat it, because it is not their cheese. They sell the cheese for coins and buy another goat. Soon they have a family of goats who are often causing mischief, creating odors, and wreaking havoc. Finally, Leora’s mother has had enough and runs off down the road with the goats chasing after her. And who do you think she meets on the road?
This is the retelling of a story from the Talmud and retains the feel of a classic story. The story is not only about “finders aren’t keepers” but also speaks to the responsibility of community to care for one another. Weber’s writing incorporates small details that add to the depth of the story. For example, when Leora and her father are building the chicken coop: “Sawdust flew, wood shavings scattered, nails bent.” It reads aloud with a lovely rhythm and ease.
Kleven’s illustrations are done in mixed-media collage using watercolors, ink, pastels and colored pencils. They have a detail that is very engaging. Some of the panels are framed in flowing flowers, others have interesting textures, and all have a warmth that is welcoming.
A great addition to units on cooperation or community, this book will also be a good pick for chicken story times. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Tricycle Press.
Also reviewed by Journey of a Bookseller.
Blue Chicken by Deborah Freedman
This vibrant picture book plays with color and perspective as well as characters who leave the flat page and enter the real world. The picture is almost finished when one of the chickens in the picture pops her head out. She then stands up and walks over to the paint pots that are waiting to finish the picture. When the chicken peeks into the blue paint, she accidentally tips it over and ends up painting herself. She is joined by a little duckling and then more who splash around in the new blue puddle, turning themselves and the cat who walked past blue. Soon all of the animals are blue. Now what can be done to turn them all back to normal?
There is a wonderful playfulness about this title. Even the grumpy animals end up enjoying the escapade. At the same time, there are lots of options to discuss colors, perspective, and art. The book has real depth to it, allowing it to be read just as a cute story, or used more seriously with children.
The words are simple and try to stay out of the way, allowing the art to really shine here. And shine it certainly does. It dazzles and glows, inviting young readers into the humor of the book and revealing a magical quality that is lovely. From the freshness of the first spill of the blue to the sogginess and flatness that results, there is an exploration of the media here right on the page.
Highly recommended, this is one of my favorite picture books of the year. It is a charming jewel of a picture book that is fun, silly, yet offers plenty to learn. Appropriate for ages 3-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Viking Books.
Also reviewed by Fuse #8.
Can Hens Give Milk? by Joan Betty Stuchner, illustrated by Joe Weissmann
Shlomo and Riva live on a farm where they have five children, twelve hens and one rooster. Rivka wishes that they had a cow to give the family milk and cheese. That night, Shlomo had a dream that showed him what they could do. Cows eat grass and give milk, so he reasoned that if the hens were fed grass, they would give milk too. But the hens refused to eat the grass. One of the daughters, Tova, came up with the idea of rolling the grass into pellets that look like the grain that the hens usually eat. But even then, the hens would not eat the grass. There was only one thing to do, and that was to force the hens to each eat one pellet of grass. The family then left them to lay eggs and give milk overnight. What do you think happened next? All I will say is that in the end, the family had eggs AND milk. But how?
This story of a fool and his family is written with great humor. Children will immediately recognize the nonsense of the logic that Shlomo and his family are using, so they will enjoy seeing the story play out. There is plenty of opportunity for laughter as new solutions are generated and then also proven to not work. It’s a story that will have you grinning just because of the silliness of the entire book.
Weissman’s art is bright and silly as well, reveling in the humor of the text. The dreams of milk and cheese are brought to life as are the hiccupping and indignant hens.
A silly book that will lend a lot of laughter to a unit or storytime on food, this book reads aloud well. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
Also reviewed by
Fox and Hen Together by Beatrice Rodriguez
The story begun in The Chicken Thief continues in this second wordless book. Here Hen has laid an egg but the refrigerator is empty, so she heads out to catch some fish. This leaves Fox to watch the egg. Hen fishes with her friend Crab, but when she catches a large fish, an eagle swoops out of the sky and grabs it. Hen holds on and so does Crab as the eagle carries them all to its nest filled with hungry babies. Just when you think they have escaped, a sea monster comes out of the deeps to grab the fish. Hen manages to escape that danger too, but then enters the house to find that Fox has been having adventures too.
Rodriguez has created a full-color immersive wordless picture book that has great appeal. The book has a great pacing that shifts from one page to the next, making for a very exciting and fun rollercoaster of a book. It is all told through bright colors, plenty of action and a storyline that twists and turns.
I am looking forward to the third in the series, Rooster’s Revenge, coming later this year. The stories make most sense if you read both of them, learning the tale of the Fox and Hen and how they came to live together.
A bright, action-filled wordless book, it is appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion.
Also reviewed by
Oliver by Christopher Franceschelli
This minimalist board book has an interesting novelty piece at the end. On most of the pages there are only an egg and one line of text. The text explains the limitations of being an egg. An egg can roll from side to side, even stand on its head, but still it is just an egg. Until something happens.
In this book, the final moment where the egg becomes something else is told through a non-removable ribbon that runs through two pages. Turn the page and the egg is transformed into a chick. The process of turning that page is fascinating and will have children turning the page back and forth from egg to chick to egg.
The book has a sturdy feel that would make it a novelty book that could survive a public or school library. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy received from Lemniscaat.
Argus by Michelle Knudsen, illustrated by Andrea Wesson
When her class at school does a science project with eggs, Sally’s egg looks very different from the regular white chicken eggs. Hers is much larger and polka-dotted. When the others eggs hatch, the fluffy yellow chicks emerge. When Sally’s egg hatches, out comes something scaly and green. Argus is completely different from the other chicks. He doesn’t eat seeds, instead he’s rather eat the other chicks. Perhaps even the students! Sally finds herself longing for a yellow, fluffy, normal chick of her own. But when Argus disappears, she realizes that he has become very special to her and that his own unique qualities are what make him himself.
Knudsen has created a picture book that is very funny. She plays up the humor of a dragon emerging from an egg in a classroom. I also enjoyed the role of the teacher, Mrs. Henshaw, who takes all of the differences and surprises in stride, managing all of the situations without getting flustered. It is as matter-of-fact a book about a dragon as you are likely to find, which is a large part of its charm.
Wesson’s illustrations have a light touch and lots of details. The yellow chicks are roly poly and jolly. Argus is not. Yet children will never be afraid of Argus because he wears a smile and has friendly yellow eyes. Another touch from Wesson are the graphs and measurements that the class makes of their “chicks.” Argus definitely does not conform.
A funny, wry book about differences and acceptance, this book will be welcome in libraries and classrooms as a way to discuss difficult subjects with humor. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from library copy.
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