Don’t Let This Book Fly the Coop!

BookendsLynn: Have you ever hit one of those periods where nothing you pick up to read is quite up to scratch? If so, I have a suggestion that is a sure cure. The delightful and highly unique Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer (May 2015), by Kelly Jones, may be eggsactly what you’re looking for.

After Sophie Brown’s father loses his job and Great-Uncle Jim dies, Sophie’s family moves to the run-down farm they inherit from him. Sophie feels like she doesn’t fit this new place. There aren’t many people around—especially “brown people” like Sophie and her mom—and she hardly knows what to do with herself. But Sophie soon learns that Blackbird Farm is a very special place.

Miss this great book and the yolk is on you!

It all starts when Sophie discovers a small, angry-looking white chicken hanging around. Sophie is sure the chicken must have belonged to Uncle Jim and she sets out to coax it out of hiding. She resurrects a chicken coop, brings food and water, and slowly lures the chicken back to the coop. But Henrietta turns out to be no ordinary chicken! And what about that strange black flash Sophie keeps seeing out of the corner of her eye zipping around the farm?

chickensTold through unsent letters to her recently deceased grandmother and Uncle Jim, Correspondent-Course Worksheets on Poultry farming, indignant missives to the mysterious Redwood Farm Supply company, newspaper articles, and Sophie’s illustrations, the story is charming, funny, and completely captivating. I love Sophie’s voice as much as I love the wacky premise of the story! Sophie discovers there are more chickens missing from Uncle Jim’s flock and she sets out to reclaim them all with the help of a growing group of friends. Uncle Jim’s chickens are indeed unusual and it takes a truly exceptional farmer to take on their care! Miss this great book and the yolk is on you!

Cindy: This is also the perfect book to read next week while you are eating egg salad sandwiches. Your Easter egg–dyed fingers will be turning the pages faster than a bunny delivers jelly beans! We teased our middle school book club about this book at a recent meeting and my bookmark now has a list of names waiting for me to finish this blog post so they can have it. This is perfect for fourth and fifth grade, but I’m putting it on my next book order and I will be booktalking it first thing in the fall when school resumes.

Here’s an excerpt from Sophie’s first letter to Redwood Farm Supply:

Dear People Who Send Catalogs to People on Farms,

My great-uncle Jim had your flyer in his barn. I can’t ask him about it, because he died a couple of months ago. But we live on his farm now, and if I have to live on a farm, I think it ought to be an interesting one…

…I can’t find your website anywhere, so Mom said I should write you a business letter and request a catalog. Your flyer says you have Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer. I don’t know what would make a chicken unusual, so maybe you’ll send me your catalog and then I can stop wondering about them,

I do think you should know I’m a very responsible twelve-year-old. I did all my own packing and unpacking when we had to move. And I would be a good farmer—I always get A’s on science projects, and I never forget to water my bean seed or anything. Also, I know how to make French toast and pancakes without catching anything on fire or burning myself or melting the spatula. Unlike my dad…

…Thank you for considering my request. I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest opportunity. (I think Mom must have found me some old letter format, because no one talks like this. If I did this wrong, it isn’t my fault.)

There is so much to love about this book! Rural and farm settings are so rare once kids grow out of picture-book farm-animal stories, and yet so many of our kids live on farms, working or not. Financial troubles also affect many of our readers’ families; Sophie’s take-charge and pragmatic response to the changes she faces is refreshing. Sophie and her mom may be the only brown faces in their new community, but I work in two schools with many Hispanic students and I am delighted to add Sophie’s story to my collection (and I’m thankful that she is shown on the cover).

The process of grieving is subtly woven through the text of the funny novel. Careful readers will note the different effects that the deaths of a dear abuelita and a remotely known great uncle have on Sophie. And, while I am growing weary of seemingly every book having a sequel, this one seems well poised for one, and readers (including me) will be eager for it. (Authors, take note of Sophie’s mother’s to-do lists: she lists the article titles that she needs to write for publication deadlines each week…hilarious.)

Okay, I need to wrap this up. I have students waiting for this book! You will, too. Buy multiple copies when it comes out on May 12th!

About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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