After waking up to the sounds of our crowing hen, I see that I need to consider the obvious. Here are several entertaining picture books on the subject of roosters.

Fans of Verna Aardema's Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears and Judy Sierra's "Toontoony Bird" will appreciate Alma Flor Ada's 1993 book The Rooster Who Went to His Uncle's Wedding: A Latin American Folktale. A handsome guy with mud on his beak can't get a soul—not the grass, not the river—to help him clean up. When the rooster meets a stick, he asks, "Dear stick, hard stick,/please hit the dog/that won't bite the lamb/that won't eat the grass/that won't clean my beak/so that I can go to my uncle's wedding." This kind of story is called a cumulative tale, and its repetitions, not to mention talking sticks and rivers, are sure to delight the read-aloud crowd. The Rooster was written by Alma Flor Ada, and illustrated in vivid colors by Kathleen Kuchera. The roo himself looks like an Aztec god.

Cover-3 A new book based on an old tale, The Rooster Prince of Breslov, is another keeper. When their spoiled son throws off his clothes and begins to peck the ground for crumbs, his royal parents panic. They call in magicians and a doctor ("the most serious case roosterism I've ever seen"), but finally put their trust in an unassuming old man. His trick is to empathize rather than punish. (A parable for parents, no doubt.) The frail fellow catches the boy's interest by crowing and asking if he minds sharing his corn. The author, Ann Redisch Stampler, writes in an afterword that her grandmother used to tell her a version of this Yiddish folktale. Eugene Yelchin's pictures expand the story's strange and ultimately reassuring events.

A while back I reviewed Bob, a fabulously funny picture book (and cumulative tale) starring a rooster. From a 2007 post: "Bob is in search of a voice—a crow, in fact. But how to? The path to cock-a-doodle-do-dom takes some twists before he finds the ideal instruction."

Indiana's Allen County Public Library shares a good long list of cumulative-tale picture books.

Works mentioned

Aardema, Verna. Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears: A West African Tale. Dial Press, 1975.

Ada, Alma Flor. The Rooster Who Went to His Uncle's Wedding. Illustrated by Kathleen Kulchera. Whitebird/Putnam, 1993.

Pearson, Tracey Campbell. Bob. Farrar Straus Giroux, 2002.

Sierra, Judy. "The Toontoony Bird," from Silly & Sillier: Read-Aloud Tales from Around the World. Illustrated by Valeri Gorbachev. Knopf, 2002.

Stampler, Ann Redisch. The Rooster Prince of Breslov. Illustrated by Eugene Yelchin. Clarion Books, 2010.

New Boss at the Coop


It's Lovey.

Doesn't she look authoritative?

Lordee. It's been a summer of change at the backyard chicken coop. We lost Fuzzy the Wonder Chicken to a predator. Lovey the White Crested Black Polish hen, above, took the loss in stride, while we humans were very sad. Lovey stood up straighter than she ever had before. Some of her bouffant grew back. (Fuzzy, you never fessed up to feather plucking.)

We bought two new young hens.

Queen Elizabeth III, standing regally on her water bowl.


Loretta Lee II. Our second chicken named Loretta. I hope this one does not crow.


Pecking order is literal. Lovey pecks the new girls fairly often, reminding them who's in charge. At night they all squeeze into the covered portion of the coop.

This afternoon I cleaned out the coop, and put fresh bedding in the nest box. Queenie and Loretta are too young to lay eggs, but I encouraged them to check it out.

Smell the pine shavings! So fresh. Look, girls!

Lovey led the way toward sleeping quarters. Queenie and Loretta followed behind cautiously.

They all stood at the doorway...

and began to eat the bedding.


Before I forget, here's a funny picture book I recommend: Interrupting Chicken, by David Ezra Stein (Candlewick, 2010), starring two fowls who know their fairy tales well.

Poetry Friday: I Am So Sorry, Emily Dickinson,

but I ruined adapted your poem because I wanted to run a photograph of my chickens in the snow. I owe you one.


I'm A Chicken! Who are you? (288a)

I'm A Chicken! Who are you? 

Are you — A Chicken — too?

Then there's a pair of us!

Don't squawk! they'd banish us — you know!

How dreary — to be — Something Else!

How public — like a Dog —

To bark your name — the livelong day —

To an admiring Blog!

On February 12th, the Poetry Friday roundup takes place at the blog I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the Hell Do I Read?


For the "poem" above, I used the version of Emily Dickinson's "I'm Nobody! Who Are You?" in The Oxford Book of American Poetry, edited by David Lehman (Oxford University Press, 2006).

Jan Brett's Weekend House

If you see a woman driving a Prius full of chickens down the Mass Pike, it just might be the renowned children's book author Jan Brett on her way to the Berkshires. Brett and her weekend home were the subjects of a profile in the New York Times' "Escapes" section on Friday. "Escapes" focuses on real estate, and Brett's place looks idyllic.

It has been a good week for chickens in major New York publications. On Monday Susan Orlean's article on backyard hens ran in The New Yorker. "The It Bird" is not available online, but is well worth your time to track down. (An "Ask the Author" column is here at The New Yorker's web site.) Orlean's experiences with poultry-keeping are uncannily similar to mine; her crowing "hen" is Laura, ours was Loretta. 

And, in the department of you heard it here first: I think we Crazy Chicken People are going to give the Crazy Cat People a run for their money. Jan Brett kisses her chickens and rubs their feet. Fuzzy and Lovey follow me around, but would flap their wings in my face if I to kiss them. I was proud to note, though, that Lovey is the same kind of chicken that Brett owns: white-crested black Polish. Brett also raises Silkies, which are like the teacup poodles of the chicken world.


Photo: Lovey the backyard hen

The Little Red Hen, and Other Chickens

IMG_0873 If you have come here very sensibly looking for children's literature information, I have a book for you: The Little Red Hen, by Paul Galdone. Esme Raji Codell recommended seeking out Galdone's versions of folk tales, and our family likes this one very much."...[T]he little red hen had to do all the housework," and her lazy housemates don't help out. We are always tickled at the illustration of the dog lying in a hammock and dreaming of bones.

In news of our own backyard chickens, Fuzzy the Hen is having some constitutional problems. Chickens need free-speech protection, too. Ha. Just kidding. Not that kind of Constitution. She is a wee bit under the weather, and it has been hard to figure out what is wrong exactly. She molted (lost her feathers) a few weeks ago, and is still missing a tail. Aside from the fact that she looks oddly abbreviated, that is not the problem.

I actually took Fuzzy to the vet, where she panted dramatically and flapped her wings in the face of the startled receptionist, who was attempting to weigh her. "I'm dying I'm dying you are trying to kill me I just know it!" I am used to the wing-flapping; it's like being caught up in the wind caused by a helicopter. Those wings can stretch out pretty big.

I left the vet with a hole in my pocket. I expected that. I once owned a sweet cat who was both asthmatic and diabetic; I know about holes in the pocket. Practical people do not take a chicken who cost all of $5 to the vet. Whatever.

So I am now giving Fuzzy a dropper-ful of medicine once a day. She does not care for it. Unless the liquid drops onto the ground and looks like something else. Oh, I see a slug! Maybe a worm! Then she'll sample the concoction. She may need some minor surgery. Braver chicken owners than I often perform the surgery themselves. Even the stitches. However, I will make peace with a hole in the other pocket before I do that.

Fuzzy's coop-mate, Lovey, is looking better than ever. We compliment her on her hair-do every day. All it took to restore the coif to its former lustrous glory was a molt. Cross your fingers that Fuzzy returns to her lustrous glory soon, too.

The photo of the two chickens was taken last summer.

Celebrity Chickens

Look who's on GalleyCat. Ain't she a beauty? The book-publishing blog has been running a series called Dog Days of Summer, and I hoped a chicken would be a nice addition. Thanks for including her, GalleyCat!

Here is a picture of both backyard chickens here at Chicken Spaghetti. They're sharing some corn on the cob. Lovey and her coop-mate, Fuzzy, have taken the summer off from egg-laying duties; it's been too hot and they cannot be bothered to earn their keep. They're more in the mood to look for bugs and worms.


Both chickens need a bath in the biggest way. Lovey sticks her crest of feathers into food, water, and watermelons and other snacks; it is definitely worse for the wear. I've never washed a chicken, so, of course, I turned to a book to tell me how. Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens spells it all out, but I can't imagine doing the following:

"If you're washing a crested bird, hold it upside down by the legs and dip the crest into the soapy water, keeping the bird's beak and eyes above water. Work suds into the topknot...

Readers, I'll keep you posted.

9780399245206L I was happy to read in The United Tweets of America, a new picture book by Hudson Talbott, that two of the fifty state birds are chickens: Delaware's Blue Hen Chicken and the Rhode Island Red. Talbott has taken a dry subject and turned it on its topknot, creating the funniest book I've read in ages. The author-illustrator presents the birds in a sort of Miss America pageant, and I laughed so hard at the Bay State's Black-Capped Chickadees dressed up as Pilgrims that my eight year old began to worry. "Mom, are you okay?" One of the buckle-hatted Pilgrim chickadees is saying, "Let us give thanks for our state dessert, Boston cream pie." As for the Rhode Island Red, Talbott writes that there's even a monument to the chicken. I have to see it.

A Chicken's Bad Hair Day

When we bought Lovey the hen at a chicken show back in January, she was a beautifully groomed show chicken. The lovely tuft of feathers on her head made her irresistible to Junior and me. We had to take her home. She is a White-Crested Black Polish chicken; Polish are known for their crowns of feathers, which also prevent them from seeing too well. I suspect that Lovey had not spent a lot of time outside of an indoor pen. She was not worldly. She lacked skills. You can see her remarkable hair-do in the photo, below left.
When it rains, the hair-do is not so easy to maintain. And when a beauty queen has been totally corrupted by a free-spirit Blue Orpington named Fuzzy, the crest really suffers. Fuzzy, our other hen, has taught Lovey this: try to get out of the coop and free-range at all costs. When you see a person/chicken servant coming out of the house, pace back and forth by the gate of the run in a dramatic fashion because people exist to feed you and otherwise enable your constant eating. When it rains, stand out in the bad weather and let your hair-do get ruined because there's a remote chance someone may let you out to look for bugs and other delights.  Also, if you lay an egg, go ahead and step on it with your muddy feet, because who cares?
And thus, we have a situation depicted on the right. After yesterday's heavy rains, today is dry and Lovey's crest will spring back to life, but some of the dirt remains. I think this means and Junior and I are going to have to give her a shampoo one day soon. Having shed her show-chicken ways, Lovey does seem to enjoy worm-hunting and hanging out with Fuzzy; she now scratches in the dirt with abandon. Still, I feel a little like we turned Miss America into a commune-loving hippie.

Readers who enjoy chicken picture books (and, really, who doesn't?) should look for Big Chickens Fly the Coop, written by Leslie Helakoski and illustrated by Henry Cole. It's a very silly story about four hens who take some risks in their desire to get out and about. They all agree about how nice it is to stay home until one says, "We would always stay home...except...we've always wanted to see the farmhouse." And off they go. I'm going to keep this one in mind for a preschool read-aloud. Preschoolers love a raucous good time, which these girls definitely have.

Saturdays with the Flock: "Queenie: One of the Family"

Poultry_conventionUsed with permission, the photograph to the left is by Mitzi Cowart, one of my fellow poultry enthusiasts at I think it looks like a chicken convention. Isn't that rooster (in the middle) a beauty? A big thank-you goes to Mitzi.

The picture book of the day is Queenie: One of the Family, by Bob Graham. Caitlin's dad, an earring-wearing hipster, saves a chicken from drowning, and the family takes her home, where the little hen fits in fine. They name her Queenie. She belongs to a nearby farm, though, and Caitlin and her parents take her back to the rightful owners. Queenie returns their kindness by coming back each day "over the fence...along the path...through the woods" to lay an egg for her rescuers. Illustrated in Grahams's humorous cartoon style, this cheerful story is a bit too convoluted to share the pinnacle with the author's well-crafted Oscar's Half Birthday, published 8 years later, but young readers will root for Queenie all the way. The school library copy we borrowed is well-loved and worn.

My own little backyard flock of two hens is doing well, having sorted out their roommate differences. When a new chicken is introduced to the existing ones, they really do go through a pecking-order initiation. It's not easy to watch. Fuzzy the resident hen was very territorial about everything, from the food bowl to individual blades of grass, and reminded Lovey, the new one, of her place by pecking her. A lot. Eventually I gave them a joint project: a spaghetti squash to attack and eat, which they did with relish. After that, things settled down considerably. Fuzzy is the queen of the coop, and Lovey is blooming as the princess, growing in confidence each day.


Queenie: One of the Family
written and illustrated by Bob Graham
Candlewick Press, 1997
ISBN-13: 978-0763614003