Unusual Chickens For The Exceptional Poultry Farmer, by Kelly Jones, illustrations by Katie Kath
If you like your epistlatory novels with cute and shy and clever twelve-year old protagonists, strong feminist themes, and receiving creepy letters from the dead, this is your kind of novel. Give an A for effort, a C for creepiness, and an F for feminist male-bashing, with its weak white father and decent-hearted black mailman being the only men in this novel aside from the protagonist’s dead great-uncle from whom her part-Chicana, part-white household inherits a farm and moves to Los Angeles despite being destitute. Someone should have told them that small family farming is not an occupation for people who want to make money, since none of these gabachos, except for the girl, of course, appear to want to farm. The mother wants to be a hip freelance writer and the father is unemployed. No wonder everyone seems depressed. At least there are chickens, glorious chickens with some potentially fearsome abilities, including one hen who lays cockatrices, who end up turning some poor ravenous raccoon who murdered their father rooster into stone. More feminist father-bashing themes, perhaps?
When I got this book, I was expecting a smaller book about a young farmer with a quirky set of chickens, something on the 40 or 50 page size aimed at early readers or people reading to pre-literate preschoolers . Instead, this is an oddball book directed at older children, maybe even tweens. The structure of this novel is chronological, but it consists of the letters that a lonely girl writes and types, along with other interesting illustrations of surly chickens, to do lists for Sophie and her parents, and the rare mistyped letter she gets back from the farm where her free but unconventional classes in receiving chickens are from. It is a good thing that Sophie is portrayed as being so noble and spunky, but this novel could really use some additional strong male characters, which is an area that is definitely lacking here. Far too many write books directed for women that assume that men aren’t going to read them, or speak up when the books are horribly imbalanced. Well, as the child of a farming family who has had family drama not unlike that dealt with by the protagonist, I find it irritating that the novelist whose to merely follow wicked societal trends rather than presenting a portrayal that shows proper honor and respect to men.
Aside from the book’s biased sexism, there is a lot of odd stuff here involving the state of the dead. This is like Sixth Sense, only involving chickens, where the dead can apparently communicate with each other and occasionally, and with difficulty, with others through the agency of the magical chickens. The chickens are the best part of the novel, although the novelist again commented that the hens should not be mixed with roosters (more sexism again). There are many bad books that I come across as a reader, but there are few books as disappointing as this sort of book, where the author’s hostility to men takes an idea that should have been a great book, and turns it into more whiny political writing, something this world needs less of. Ultimately, a book that in the hands of a remotely fair-minded author could have been a masterpiece ends up being fit for lining a chicken coop, or being burned very slowly. A word of unsolicited advice to the author: resolve your man issues before you start writing books to children, since contempt is not a lesson that is worth passing on to children.
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