by Kelly Johnson
illustrated by Katie Kath
First sentence: “My great-uncle Jim had your flyer in his barn.”
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Review copy swiped off the ARC shelves at my place of employment.
Content: There’s some tricky words, and I’m not sure whether or not the epistolary format will turn off reluctant readers or encourage them. There’s a lot of fun illustrations and some good chicken facts, though. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore, but I’d probably give it to a confident 2nd grade reader.
Sophie Brown and her parents have just moved from the bustling city of Los Angeles to a farm in the middle of nowhere California. It was a move partially because of necessity — her dad lost his job and hasn’t been able to find a new one — and partially out of happenstance — Sophie’s dad’s uncle died and left him the farm. So, they’re trying to figure this whole thing out. And it’s not going terribly well. That is, until Sophie discovers a catalog for “exceptional” chickens. Turns out, that Uncle Jim was not only a farmer (he had a vegetable garden and some grape vines) but he raised, well, unusual chickens.
The chickens are not quite magical, and they’re based on real chickens, but they’re not quite normal either. (One lays glass eggs, for example.) Sophie is given instructions by the person who runs the catalog on how to catch and care for the chickens, but someone is trying to steal Sophie’s chickens. The question is: will she figure out how to keep the chickens (without divulging their magical properties)? And can she stop the thief from stealing her chickens?
The cleverest thing about this book is the format: Sophie’s story spills slowly over the course of the book through letters she writes to her dead abuela, dead great-uncle Jim, and the chicken place. (It’s kind of unusual her writing to dead people, but it works. She doesn’t really expect an answer back.) It’s a very one-sided story, and we only get snippets of things other than chickens: her mother’s free-lance writing, or her father’s failing search for a job. But, the tone is light, and there is a mystery to be solved with the chicken thief. But what really comes through is Sophie’s voice. She’s a determined child, someone who is willing to figure things out and solve problems. She’s spunky. And she’s half Latina. All of which makes for a charming book, a fun read, and a book worth checking out.