I finished Coop, by Michael Perry, last week, staying up way late to suck the last words out of the marrow of his book. What a wonderful way to spend those hours, reading about a man and his family, his outbuildings and their farm. I spent a lot of time reading little pieces of it out loud to anyone I could corner, and a lot of time laughing in public (funny how people move away when you laugh out loud to yourself, isn't it?). I have wanted a shed and a coop (and the chickens that go in that coop) for a long time but I live on a postage stamp sized yard. I will have to live vicariously through other people's experiences. The family at the end of our street has two of the fanciest coops I've seen, electricity and statuary included, and I love walking by and seeing the warm light shining out of their hens' windows. One of my friends at work just got chicks and I am so excited for her.
The day after finishing Coop, I found a link to Hencam. Hencam allows us to watch the hens at Terry Golson's house. Terry has written a book called Tillie Lays an Egg that features the hens that Terry cares for and that wander the fenced in area surrounding the coop. We can watch the hens and the lop-eared rabbit named Candy go up and down the ramps to the coop and the hutch, we watch them get in and out of their boxes, we watch them walk and bob and tilt their heads one way and their little chicken butts the other. We thrill to the sight of Candy squatting at the opening of her hutch. Will she come down? Will she change position? Will she chase a chicken?
I cannot tell you how much I have enjoyed watching these girls over the last few days. I leave the site open on my computer and check back while I wait for something to load. It's kind of cool to watch the weather changes: The first day was a windy one, lots of shadows against the outbuildings, clouds,I think, and yesterday was rainy and the hens were in the coop most of the day. A few brave souls headed out (of course, you have to toggle back and forth between inside and outside to watch the hens go down the ramp or come inside-so exciting!) to scratch on the ground, but for the most part, the action was all indoors.
I am utterly infatuated with the idea of hens, so, in honor of all things chicken, here are a few of my favorite chicken related books:
Coop, by Michael Perry. There are lovely, funny reflections on the chickens in the family. I woke my husband up so I could read him the passage about Little Miss Shake and Bake's run across the ground. I laughed so hard I snorted and then couldn't finish reading. (This is a book for grown-ups.)
The Egg and I, by Betty MacDonald, may not be precisely a chicken book but you have to have them to get to the eggs. This is the autobiography of a woman vastly unprepared for living in the wilds of the Olympic peninsula. No electricity, running water, or close neighbors, it is a constant battle to keep home and hearth together. One of the best books ever. Betty MacDonald is also the author of the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle books, some of my favorite kid's books. The Egg and I is for grown-ups, the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle books are great for 5 and up.
Love, Ruby Lavender, by Deborah Wiles, has a great opening scene: Ruby and her grandmother have rolled up to a chicken farm where the chickens are being liquidated, sold to a meat packing guy, and they steal the chickens! Catching chickens, tossing them into the car, driving away trailing feathers! What moxie! Yes, it may be against the law, but who can let certain death happen to their chicken friends! (Ages 9 and up.)
Along Came a Dog, by Meindert De Jong, illustrated by Maurice Sendak, is an amazing book. I am so sorry I didn't read this book when I was a kid so I could have lived with it in my life longer. This is the story of a man and his chicken and the friendship between the chicken and a stray dog. The man loves this particular little hen and she loves to ride around with him while he works. She sits on his shoulder shifting with his movements as he makes his way around his farm. When she freezes one of her feet off in a frozen mud pond, leaving only a clawless knuckle of a leg, she can't hold on. He invents a little chicken leg plug-in to sew on his shirt so he can insert her leg nubbin, and with that and her intact leg, she is able to continue to go with him. This is a not very well-known book now, but it should be. It's a classic and it might be time to revisit this little farm and its inhabitants. (Age 9 and up. You could read it aloud to the family and the story could go as young as 7.)
Chicken Boy, by Frances O'Roark Dowell, is the story of a severely dysfunctional family. Tobin's grandmother unable to be in polite company, his father is unable to care for anyone, much less himself, his brothers are all delinquents and the only friend he has thinks that chickens could reveal the meaning of life. This is a funny and poignant look at life in the seventh grade. Anything by Ms. Dowell is good, but I think this is my favorite. (Ages 12 and up.)
Chicken Dance, by Jacques Couvillon, is a lovely book about a quiet boy whose parents are awful. They live on a chicken farm and his mother hates it. Our hero has spent most of his life in the shadow of his missing sister and has been made to feel as though he will never be as smart, as beautiful or as worthy of life as she. Things begin to change when he wins a local chicken judging contest and begins to be recognized for his skill. This is a book that will take you by surprise. (Ages 10 and up.)
Who You Callin' Chicken?, by Thea Feldman, photos by Stephen Green-Armytage, is a book full of pictures and information about chickens, fancy chickens, plain chickens, chickens, chickens, chickens! It is a very cool reference book packed with beautiful shots of extraordinary fowl. (Ages 5 and up.)
My favorite chicken picture books, by far, though, are the Minerva Louise books by Janet Morgan Stoeke. Miverva Louise is an adventurous fat white hen who ventures away from the barn and has marvelous encounters with the world. She interprets the world she meets through the translation of farm: a flower pot is a fancy hat, a clutch of pencils is a nest of yellow straw, the school is a barn. She is fearless and I love her. (Ages 4 and up. Younger kids may not have the knowledge yet to get the jokes.)
Queenie, One of the Family, by Bob Graham, is a fun story about a family who rescues a chicken from a lake. Queenie comes home with them and proceeds to take over while the family tries to figure out where she came from. I love Bob Graham's illustrations. The dad has a ponytail and the pregnant mom has a tattoo. He is able, with very few lines, to convey emotion and his pictures are simple but there is a lot to look at. There aren't very many words on the page but you don't need many if they are all the right words. (Age 4 and up.)
Rooster's Gift, by Pam Conrad, is beautifully illustrated by Eric Beddoes. Rooster is a vain thing, sure that the sun only rises because he sings it up. One day, he sleeps in and he is stunned that the sun rose without him! He loses all confidence in himself until Smallest Hen shows him why he is special. Just a beautiful, sweet book. (Age 5 and up.)
Busy Chickens, by John Schindel, is a board book filled with great photos of chickens illustrating different actions. Told in rhyme, "chickens sleeping, chickens leaping", it is a fun look at chickens doing the same things humans do. It is one of a number of board books with different animals being busy. I am especially fond of the "kittens puddling" photo in the Busy Kitties book. (Ages 2 and up.)
Check out Terry Gilson's Hencam and her new book, Tillie Lays an Egg. You can access her website and the girls by going to http://www.hencam.com. It's kind of like having an aquarium.