In my humble opinion, anyone who can write a book this good about chicken farming is a genius. And that’s exactly what Kelly Jones has done with “Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer”. I thought it was really unique how the story is told through a series of letters and magazine articles. The illustrations are adorable, and they made me grow especially attached to Henrietta the chicken, even though she’s cranky and prone to mood swings. (I never imagined writing such a thing about a chicken!)
Don’t worry! You don’t have to own chickens to fall in love with this story. But you will love it. Reading “Unusual Chickens” will be the part of your day you look forward to. It’s the perfect book to come home to after an especially long or hard day. It probably won’t take you long to read, but it’ll make you smile and think cute thoughts in the time you spend with it. And really, it’s cute thoughts that fuel us. (Not food and water as some people might believe.)
Sophie, along with her mom and dad, has just moved from Los Angeles to her uncle’s old farm. She has no siblings, and because it’s summer vacation, she hasn’t had a chance to make any friends yet. Farms are big, so there aren’t any next-door neighbors like there would be in a city. To pass the time, and to feel less lonely, Sophie writes letters. She writes letters to her deceased aunt and uncle. And she also writes to the Redwood Farm Supply company after finding their catalog in her uncle’s barn.
While her parents are off doing parent stuff, Sophie tidies up the property and takes inventory of her uncle’s belongings. From the bushes, Sophie drags out what used to be a chicken house. She props it upright and decides that if she’s going to live on a farm, she might as well give the whole farmer thing a try. The next morning, Sophie heads out to start her farm work and discovers a little white chicken hanging around the old chicken coop.
But Henrietta is no ordinary chicken, that’s obvious from the start. Being the good farmer she is, Sophie tends to Henrietta by feeding and watering her. Sophie swears her chicken has special powers, and continues to write to the Redwood Farm Supply, asking for advice. After a few persuasive and pleading letters, she finally gets a mysterious (and poorly written) response from Agnes at the Redwood Farm Supply advising her to never let anyone take the chicken, and to keep Henrietta a secret.
Over the next few weeks, more and more chickens start coming around, each with their own special ability. Sophie gets the occasional letter from Agnes, and starts taking an educational course through the mail so she can take proper care of her unusual chickens. A boy from a neighboring farm tells Sophie that he has information on three more chickens that belonged to Sophie’s uncle. They’re being held captive by Ms. Griegson, who has already tried once (unsuccessfully) to chicken-nap Sophie’s powerful poultry.
After the daring rescue, Sophie shows up at the local poultry show with a purpose and a plan. She bravely faces the chicken thief and, without naming the culprit, gets the whole town to vow to protect her brood. Back at her farm, Sophie reunites her chickens and is in awe over just how special they are. In fact, they even help her connect with Agnes without having to mail letters back and forth. Unusual chickens, indeed.
Initially, Sophie’s letters were tinged with sadness. Her one friend from home ignored her letters, and her parents were always busy, as grown-ups usually are. Sophie was left to deal with a pretty freaky situation all on her own! As you read Sophie’s correspondences with her aunt and uncle, it’s reassuring to see that her responsibilities with the chickens give her a sense of purpose and independence. You can almost feel her loneliness melting away. Of course, we always want a happy ending for our protagonists, but I thought Sophie was especially deserving of such a resolution. You really have to read this book, just to see how magically it ends.
“Unusual Chickens” has great potential as a read aloud, both for classrooms and young listeners at home. Additionally, it would be appropriate as an independent read, as the format makes it accessible even for young readers. I can definitely see this book being read and shared among classmates and families. This is one of those books that demands to be giggled over in groups.
Author: Kelly Jones (Connect with her on Twitter: @curiosityjones)
Publisher: Knoph Books for Young Readers
Publish Date: May 12, 2015
You might also enjoy: “Audrey (cow)” by Dan Bar-el
My recommended age range: 3rd-5th grade