C is for Chicken

Hens for Friends by Sandy De Lisle and Illustrated by Amelia Hansen
Published by Gryphon Press – A voice for the voiceless

Another book brought to my attention by the RedRover Reading Programme.  This is a beautifully illustrated picture book about Aaron, a boy whose family get six chickens from ‘Mother Hen Chicken Rescue’.  There are lots of talking points in this book. I like the part about the town council having to approve keeping chickens.  People protest that “chickens will bring rodents – and they all carry diseases!”  Of course, Aaron is busy keeping his chickens clean and fed and always washes his hands.  It is not all about responsible ownership, this story also reveals the love between a child and an animal.

“I love them all, but Margaret is my best hen friend.  When I sit on the ground, she jumps into my lap and tucks her head under my arm.  When I stroke her back, she makes a funny sound, kind of like a purring cat.”

Aaron learns a lot about hens, particularly those kept in factory farms.

“Why does the farmer treat them like that?” I ask.  “That doesn’t sound like a farm to me.”
“In those factory farms, they have thousands of hens to care for,” Mom says.
“Well, then, they shouldn’t keep so many hens,” I say.

I have had a 10 year old investigate factory farming for her PYP Exhibition (International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme).  Children do ask questions about where their food comes from.  This is a brilliant picture book to start with. There is an information page at the back of this book about the benefits of keeping your own hens, looking after them correctly and finally how you can rehome chickens rather than buying from a breeder.

 The Chicken Gave it to Me by Anne Fine and illustrated by Philippe Dupasquier

A funny, well-written chapter book by former Children’s Laureate and award-winning author Anne Fine.  Andrew finds a book written by a former battery cage hen who tells ‘The true story of Harrowing Farm’.  She is released from her cage by aliens who plan to use the cages for their favourite meat – human!  The plucky hen joins them on their space ship to tell their planet how cruel it is to keep any animal in a confined, unnatural space.  Some of the aliens listen and some don’t.  I like the discussion on vegetarianism and particularly the characters Gemma and Andrew who discover that they know more about dinosaurs than they know about chickens.  You can do a lot with this book if you teach, particularly on the subject of communication and ‘getting the message across’. Advertising, slogans, interviews and silly gimmicks ‘she doesn’t glow in the dark!’  all feature as the chicken attempts to convey her message.  There are lots of lesson plans using this book, I found a few, like this by Annie77 , on TES (Times Educational Supplement).

Here is an excerpt from the book as Andrew and Gemma discuss why they have never heard about the cruelty of factory farms:


The chicken also picks up the discussion as she tries to tell an alien about the humans kept captive for meat:

The Little Hen and the Great War by Jennifer Beck and illustrated by Robyn Belton

This book was inspired by a photograph Jennifer Beck saw in a book ‘Animals in War’. The little hen is found by a soldier who feeds and cares for her. His fellow soldiers mock him as the hen is so scrawny it ‘wouldn’t make a decent bowl of soup’ but they quickly become fond of the hen and adopt her as their lucky mascot.Unable to take the hen with them, the solider returns her to the farm where he found her.

“The soldiers stopped teasing Arthur, and began to look upon Bertha as a lucky mascot. They even helped him build a pen for her”.

Published as The Bantam and the Soldier in New Zealand in 1997, this book won both the Picture Book Category of the New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards, and the Book of the Year.  The illustrations by Robyn Belton are both gentle and evocative and it would be a good book to introduce World War I to young children. It could also be used for creative writing by showing children photographs and asking them to write a story about what they see.  Of course, it also works well with the ‘I see, I think, I wonder’ thinking routine.  It should just be emphasised that despite the research, this is a work of fiction.




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