Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer, by Kelly Jones
Are there any humans?
Twelve-year-old Sophie Brown and her parents, recently moved from Los Angeles to her late great-uncle Jim’s remote chicken farm. Since Sophie doesn’t have any friends, she soon finds herself taking care of Jim’s special chickens and getting into the spirit of poultry farming.
So this is a book for chicken owners.
Not necessarily. I wasn’t a fan of chickens when I started, but the book did make me want to get chickens of my own. Talk about the Code Name Verity Effect!
Specifically, I want chickens with as much character as Sophie’s flock, unusual powers optional. I’ve met humans with less personality than Henrietta, Chameleon, et al.
Besides, I aced the book’s quiz on whether I was prepared to take care of chickens. According to Redwood Farm, provider of unusual super chickens, I totally deserve some of my own.
What else happens, besides the chickens?
In her loneliness, Sophie writes letters to her deceased Abuelita and great-uncle Jim, asking for advice on family (they’re broke), life (she’s friendless and adrift) and chickens (of course). She also takes correspondence courses in chicken-farming from Agnes, the owner of Redwood Farm. Sophie later faces a shady chicken thief and the world’s creepiest red-tailed hawk.
So, yeah, most of the whole plot revolves around chickens, because they allow us to discover Sophie’s personality and her stubborn drive to master a new skill. And as the mysteries pile up, her attempts to hide the truth from her parents get increasingly desperate. It’s a fun twist on the classic story of a kid trying to conceal her new pet and hoping the adults won’t notice.
Sophie is half-Latina, which is noteworthy because there aren’t a lot of silly, magical books starring characters of color. Her race becomes an important part of the plot, as she faces stereotypes that make it harder for her to fit into the community. But it never overpowers the plot. It’s exactly the kind of book Christopher Myers called for in his essay “Young dreamers:” books with “spaceships, clowns, and unicorns, [depicting] whole human beings…where sure there are lessons and context and history, but there is also fantasy and giggling and play.”
Recommended for fans of…
Roald Dahl (the magic), Jack Gantos (the humor), Richard Peck (the hilarious, not-always-responsible adults), Polly Horvath (general mayhem), and Jeanne Birdsall (Sophie’s family is like a mini-version of the Penderwicks).
The artwork, by Katie Kath, is a cross between Quentin Blake (of Roald Dahl books fame) and LeUyen Pham (the artist behind Bo at Ballard Creek): utterly charming. See, here’s Sophie with Henrietta, her first chicken. How can you resist?