Rating: 5 stars
“Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer” is a long-winded title for debut author Kelly Jones’ new middle grade fiction (with a touch of magic). She cleverly manages to tell the whole story through a series of letters written by Sophie Brown, a girl who has moved to her great-uncle’s abandoned farm after he died and left it to her parents.
Used to living in an apartment in Los Angeles, Sophie and her family know nothing about farm life. While her father is the one whose uncle left them the farm, Sophie’s mother is the one who grew up working on farms. Sophie’s grandmother was from Mexico, and the family traditions (like making migas) are an important part of the story.
When chickens begin to appear at the farm, Sophie starts to write to a local poultry expert for advice. She is also writing to her (deceased) great uncle Jim and to her (deceased) grandmother. The chickens that Sophie inherits from her uncle are very unusual indeed. One chicken can open locks and lays glass eggs. Another hatches chicks that can turn things to stone. That is why Agnes, the poultry expert, gives Sophie specific instructions about how long to refrigerate the eggs to make sure that they won’t hatch.
This is a great story for those who want to include books with diversity in a reading program. Sophie mentions her brown skin and describes people as “the white lady.” Skin color is important because at the beginning of their stay at the farm, someone assumes that Sophie and her mother are migrant workers there. Sophie’s father is “white,” but Sophie looks like her mother. It’s a good vehicle to have an open discussion with children about skin color and the assumptions that people make.
The illustrations by Katie Kath need to be mentioned. While this is a middle grade book and not a graphic novel or a beginning chapter book, the illustrations really add to the story. They are humorous yet very simple.
Perfect for children from fourth grade through middle school, this would also be a great read aloud in a classroom. Sophie is a great character with pluck, intelligence, compassion and ingenuity.
Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by the publisher for review purposes.