Sunday, April 19, 2015

Review: Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer

Title: Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer
Author: Kelly Jones
Illustrator: Katie Kath
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Review Copy: ARC via publisher
Availability: May 12, 2015

Summary: Twelve-year-old Sophie Brown feels like a fish out of water when she and her parents move from Los Angeles to the farm they’ve inherited from a great-uncle. But farm life gets more interesting when a cranky chicken appears and Sophie discovers the hen can move objects with the power of her little chicken brain: jam jars, the latch to her henhouse, the entire henhouse.... And then more of her great-uncle’s unusual chickens come home to roost. Determined, resourceful Sophie learns to care for her flock, earning money for chicken feed, collecting eggs. But when a respected local farmer tries to steal them, Sophie must find a way to keep them (and their superpowers) safe. Told in letters to Sophie’s abuela, quizzes, a chicken-care correspondence course, to-do lists, and more, Unusual Chickens is a quirky, clucky classic in the making.

Review: The title struck me as amusing before I even got to the text. The look in the top chicken's eye's on the cover also cracks me up. There was no way that I could ignore this book and I'm so glad I didn't. Sophie and her adventures had me smiling and giggling over and over even when dealing with serious things. Her first letter to her grandmother is a good example. Her abuela died recently  and Sophie writes, "I know you're dead, and I don't believe in zombies, so you don't need to write back or anything."

And those chickens! The chickens are hilarious and only become more so as you slowly learn how unusual they really are. There is a mystery unfolding throughout the book and I don't want to spoil it, but know that there are many laughs along the way. The humor is also embedded in the fun pictures. Katie Kath has added a lot through her playful illustrations. The expressions on the faces of the people and the chickens are fabulous.

This is a light-hearted and entertaining book, but Sophie doesn't only talk about the chickens in her letters. She mentions the chicken that uses The Force and other bizarre happenings involving superhero type powers, but she also discusses race, class, identity and fitting in. It's done in a matter of fact way and doesn't get teachy or preachy. Sophie is half Latina and looks like her Mexican American mother. She explains that some people assume that Sophie and her mother (who was born in the United States) are undocumented immigrants. Another time she writes, "People always think Mom and I are poor. They even did when we had some money, just because we're brown." This is not a case of a humorous story with a character who "just happens to be Latina." Her culture shapes her story and how it is told.

An extra bit of wonderfulness in the story is the recipe for migas. I love books that encourage me to make something new in the kitchen. *Update: I tried the migas tonight for dinner and ate way too much because they were seriously yummy.

Recommendation: Definitely get this as soon as it's available. You'll want to read Unusual Chickens  and share it widely. You may also end up grabbing The Hoboken Chicken Emergency since Sophie is a superfan and read it aloud to her chickens.

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