I love chickens. I have this dream of owning some land with a beautiful farm house, a barn, and a chicken coop. This is ridiculous, really, because my grandmother had chickens and when she went looking for a grandchild to collect eggs, I'd hide. Those little monsters pecked my legs and the rooster would rush me like some demonic creature out to banish me from his domain! So my dream of owning chickens really comes with the requirement that my husband take care of the little beasties. I love chickens from a distance and preferably just in picture books.
Speaking of such books, I have found a beautiful trio of chicken-related picture books that I'd like to endorse for you. Ever read Simms Taback's picture books, Joseph Had a Little Overcoat or There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly? Those books are pure genius, with holes cut through the pages that act as foreshadowing to the story. First the Egg by Laura Vaccaro Seeger falls in that same category of imaginative picture book construction, though not to the degree of Taback's books. And, having preluded this post as some sort of chicken-only picture book review, it actually has a bunch of other non-chicken related things in it. First the egg, then the chicken, first the seed, then the plant and on and on. It was cute, beautifully painted, cleverly designed, and kept my two-year-old riveted. This is a new standard by which I grade books, by the way. If a book is boring, she won't put up with it. There was no waffling about which came first, the chicken or the egg, either. Seeger just makes it go both ways.
I'm not so snobbish that I insist that all picture books be drawn, painted, collaged or some other such thing, but I don't really like photography-based picture books. "Meh" is what I usually say, but I read somewhere that Tillie Lays an Egg by Terry Golson was a worthy read. My kids loved trying to discover on each page where Tillie, that crazy hen, had laid her egg each day. My favorite part was reading at the end that the author owned everything that was photographed, minus a red pickup truck, and that each of those chickens had their own personalities and characters. My dream of owning my farm doubled after reading it to my kids and their own nearly constant pleas for animals didn't lessen any either. If my farm would look like those pictures and I could have such personable hens, I don't know how I could resist.
I saved the best for last. Kate DiCamillo, author of amazing junior chapter books such as The Tale of Despereaux, Tiger Rising, and Because of Winn-Dixie wrote Louise, the Adventures of a Chicken. She has only written two picture books, but if is what I can expect, I hope she does a dozen more. To make it even better, Harry Bliss illustrated Louise and his illustrations in Diary of a Worm and Diary of a Spider make me happy. Dare I say, blissfully happy? Oh, stop groaning, it was funny. Anyway, Louise is a chicken who decides she is ready for adventure outside of the farm. First, she goes to sea and escapes being captured by pirates who are busy arguing over how best to cook her up. Then, she runs away to the circus that comes to town and narrowly misses being snatched by a lion when she falls from the high wire. Last adventure of all, she travels far away to a bazaar where she is captured, imprisoned with other chickens, rallies them to escape and travels by camel, boat and hot air balloon to return home to her beloved sister chickens. After each adventure, she sleeps the deep and dreamless sleep of the true adventurer.
I keep arguing with myself over what is better, the story or the pictures. I think it's a draw because they are equally amazing. I loved the language, how DiCamillo can make our own hearts pound with excitement, even as Louise anticipates her true adventures beginning. I loved the crashing waves of the sea, the pages where Louise was on the high wire and how the illustrations are turned vertically so you get a sense of vertigo with how high she is. Man, everything is so good!
In all, you can't run a-fowl with any of these books. What is with me and the puns? They are egg-stremely annoying. I'll stop now. Be warned, however, that reading any of these will give you an itching to buy a chicken coop and some beautiful snowy white hens to hide their eggs and disappear on occasion to join the circus.