Set in the rural South, Janice N. Harrington's new picture book stars an African-American scamp who looks to be around six or seven. She takes in every word that her grandma tells her ("Big Mama says you can do anything you put your mind to...") except for the directive not to chase the chickens. "I try hard to be good," the little girl says, but the loud squawkkks and flying feathers prove impossible to resist. The chicken who's hardest to catch is the wily Miss Hen, and that's, of course, who the girl sets her sites on.
Shelley Jackson's multimedia-collage illustrations provide wonderfully dramatic images to accompany the story; the pictures of the chickens, with their patched-together quality (painting, snips of photographs, found paper and fabrics), evoke the rural tradition of quilting, and in fact the book is a kind of crazy-quilt homage to life in the country and the love between a grandmother and her grandchild, as well as a growing-up tale.
I guessed from the text that the author is both a storyteller and a poet—a person who is used to painting pictures with words—and I was right. Harrington, who is also a librarian, wrote the poem that I chose for yesterday's Poetry Friday. In The Chicken-Chasing Queen, there's a heavy reliance on similes and metaphors, which works well in a read-aloud; "Miss Hen looks at me steady and hard, her eyes knife-bright, her beak raised like a sharp question." I also loved the little details of Big Mama's farm, like the "peckity-scratch-peck" of the chickens, Big Mama's wheelbarrow, the silver dipper of the water pail, the well house, and the cool shade of the porch.
With its joy and good humor, The Chicken-Chasing Queen of Lamar County tops the charts at my house these days.