Friday, March 14

The Chicken of the Family


by Mary Amato
illustrated by Delphine Durand
Putnam 2008

It is the sacred duty of the eldest child to deviously taunt the youngest sibling. If one can do so with the aid of middle siblings, all the better. It is equally the duty of the youngest sibling to both believe the most gullible lies delivered by the oldest sibling and find an equally clever, but innocent, way to get their revenge.

And so we have The Chicken of the Family.

Henrietta is woken from her sleep and told by her oldest sister Kim that she isn't really a member of the family, she is a chicken, acquired from the farm down the road. Middle sister Claire's job is to go along with the joke, the support of two people saying the same thing giving the statement the weight of truth. Henrietta doesn't believe it's true until she wakes up in the morning and finds an egg in her bed and a couple of feathers on the floor.

Certain now that she is truly a chicken she runs away, down the road to the farm where she takes her rightful place in the chicken yard. Henrietta has no qualms adjusting to her new life as a chicken, scratching and taking a dust bath and playing follow the leader.

Kim and Claire arrive with a directive from their parents to admit their prank and bring Henrietta home. The only problem is that Henrietta is enjoying herself too much, feels she really is a chicken, and refuses to follow. Exasperated, Kim decides to call for back-up from her parents but Claire has decided to stay -- she's broken away from her sister's scheme after seeing what fun it is to be a chicken. Henrietta and Claire do trundle on home just in time to see their older sister getting chewed out for causing this fiasco.

"Sometimes it's good to be a chicken."

Indeed, sometimes embracing your gullibility is no different than embracing what makes you unique. Accepting what her sisters have told her, Henrietta is free to discover what it means to be different. She knows she's not a chicken on some level, just as she doesn't run away to get her sister in trouble, but along the way she's learned something about herself, about another culture (if you will), and about the things others will do to control you.

Yes, this is a deeper reading that a light and fluffy picture book deserves, but it's true: sometimes it is good to be a chicken.
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