Previous month:
November 2007
Next month:
January 2008

A Smaller Flock, and a Christmas Surprise

I never thought chicken-owning would be so, well, emotional. A fox, or maybe a coyote, got Bossy and Petunia the Barred Rocks just before Christmas. They had spent the day out free-ranging with the others just like they'd done many times, but did not return to the coop. I found one, no longer living, in the neighbor's garden, and saw something fox-like trotting away. Heartbroken, Junior and I sniffled our way through the next couple of days, indulging ourselves in the occasional maudlin moment—"Remember how they liked dust baths?" I couldn't even look at their pictures on the computer without getting choked up.

Because I'd found only one, I called our town's animal control officer, and reported a missing chicken, just in case one of the girls turned up somewhere. Wishful thinking, right? (Okay, "nutty" does fit in here.) We then went out of town and had a splendid Christmas down south, and didn't think about poultry for a few days. Our friend chicken-, cat-, and goldfish-sat, and we knew everyone was in good hands. When we returned home, there was a message from the animal control officer that a neighbor a few blocks away had our hen and would be in touch. Unbelievable!

The neighbor did call, and explained that a chicken had taken up residence in his garage about a week ago, the same time as the fox incident. We had a long conversation about when to pick up the chicken, which had dashed out of the garage, and decided to wait until the next morning when he would try to shut it inside again. For some reason, I said, "It's black and white, isn't it?" And he said, "No, it's really more brown." I thought maybe he just wasn't used to describing chicken colors; after all, how many stray hens can there be in one town?

And that is how we came to own our new chicken, Brownie, an adorable little thing. She was definitely brown, definitely not Bossy or Petunia, and since she looks quite a bit younger than the two big Orpingtons (who were unharmed by the wily predator), we are keeping her in a separate pen for now. Needless to say, nobody will be free-ranging without strict supervision.

Little did I know when I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which inspired me to start the flock, that I'd be in for such adventures. Even if we have to give Brownie back to her original owners, finding her so soon after our own pets' demise gave us great joy.

In an attempt to stay (barely) on topic, I usually mention a picture book when I talk about the chickens here at home. Today's recommended reading is a favorite of Junior's—Daisy Comes Home, written and illustrated by Jan Brett. It's about a hen in China who has her own great adventures and a little girl who rescues her.


"To begin with, it's true, she read with trepidation and some unease. The sheer endlessness of books outfaced her and she had no idea how to go on; there was no system to her reading, with one book leading to another, and often she had two or three on the go at the same time. The next stage had been when she started to make notes, after which she always read with a pencil in hand, not summarising what she read but simply transcribing passages that struck her. It was only after a year or so of reading and making notes that she tentatively ventured on the occasional thought of her own. 'I think of literature,' she wrote 'as a vast country to the far borders of which I am journeying but will never reach. And I have started too late. I will never catch up.' Then (an unrelated thought): 'Etiquette may be bad but embarrassment is worse.' "

From The Uncommon Reader, a novella by Alan Bennett, in which the author considers: What if Queen Elizabeth II became a reader?

Happiest of Holidays

Merry Christmas, everyone. I hope all of you have a splendid holiday.

I've mentioned many of the books I finished in 2007 on the blog, but some grown-up titles I look forward reading to are

The Art of Simple Food, by Alice Waters

The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century, by Alex Ross

Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain, by Maryanne Wolf

Fire to Fire: New and Selected Poems, by Mark Doty (April 2008)

The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science, by Natalie Angier

Poetry Friday: Redbird at Rockefeller Center

20841806_2 Redbird at Rockefeller Center
by Peter Maloney and Felicia Zekauskas
Dial Books for Young Readers, 1997
ISBN: 0-8037-2256-7

When I wrote about seeing the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree on I-95, I had not heard of Maloney and Zekauskas's flighty tale. Then a friend tipped me off. Psst, she said. Not only does Redbird depict the tree (this one originates in Jersey), but the ten-year-old rhyming picture book sits on the shelves of the local bookstore right now. I'd started the car before she finished her sentence.

Kate, a little girl, takes a dim view of losing her big spruce—and the baby cardinal in it. Her mom, though, wants the tree gone and calls a woodcutter with a very long truck.

But the driver worked fast and the next thing Kate knew
The tree, truck, and Redbird had vanished from view.
They sped through the snow, then under a river...

The driver had something he had to deliver:
That thousand-foot spruce, that giant green tree
Was scheduled to be in the city by three!

Silliness and lots of visual jokes, holiday magic, and an adorably imagined flock of redbirds sold me on the book immediately. A fine addition to our small Christmas collection.

For even more rhymes and verses, see the Poetry Friday roundup at Gina Ruiz's AmoXcalli blog.

Children's Book Bloggers' Gift Giving Guide

You'll find a sleigh full of suggestions for books for children at the dazzling December Carnival of Children's Literature. The showcase of holiday gifts takes place at the blog Big A, little a.

What's a blog carnival? See this post from last spring.

Meanwhile, check out what a bunch of  writers are reading at The Millions. Although the focus is on books for adults, novelist Liz Moore's reference to some kids' books made me laugh.

Merry Reading: Picture Books

Fellow bloggers, a few other friends, and I compiled Christmas suggestions for slightly older picture-book readers (say, seven and up). Many thanks to Jenny, Rose Kent, Elaine at Wild Rose Reader, Camille at Book Moot, Anamaria at Books Together, Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect, and my friends Ms. L., Ms. D., and Ms. C. at the library. Also, be sure to see all the new holiday titles reviewed at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast and the books of Christmas poetry at Wild Rose Reader.

Auntie Claus, by Elise Primarvera

The Christmas Bear, by Henrietta Strickland

Christmas in the Big House, Christmas in the Quarters, by Patricia C. McKissack and Frederick L. McKissack.  Christmas at a Virginia plantation in 1859.

A Christmas Like Helen's, by Natalie Kinsey-Warnock

A Christmas Memory. Truman Capote's classic short story, illustrated with full-page watercolors by Beth Peck.

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, by Susan Wojciechowski

A Christmas Tree in the White House, by Gary Hines

December, by Eve Bunting

The Donkey's Dream, by Barbara Helen Berger

How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, by Dr. Seuss

Night Tree, by Eve Bunting

Olivia Helps with Christmas, by Ian Falconer

The Oxford Treasury of Christmas Poems, compiled by Michael Harrison and Christopher Stuart-Clark

The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg

Redbird at Rockefeller Center, by Peter Maloney and Felicia Zekauskas

Santa Calls, by William Joyce

Silver Packages, by Cynthia Rylant

Star Mother's Youngest Child, by Louise Moeri

The Story of Holly and Ivy, by Rumer Godden

The Thirteen Days of Christmas, by Jenny Overton

Under the Kissletoe: Christmastime Poems, by J. Patrick Lewis

We Were There: A Nativity Story, by Eve Bunting

Welcome Comfort, by Patricia Polacco

The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree: An Appalachian Story, by Gloria Houston


Chapter Books

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson

Children of the Noisy Village, by Astrid Lindgren

Judy Moody and Stink: The Holly Joliday, by Megan McDonald

Miracle on 34th Street, by Valentine Davies

Ramona and Her Father, by Beverly Cleary

Monday Morning Magazine Reading

The New Yorker rolls out a generous end-of the-year issue, with stories by Junot Diaz, Anne Enright, and Jhumpa Lahiri (not online), plus a John Lahr piece about Harold Pinter and "The Homecoming," and two poems by the late Grace Paley: "One Day" and "Suddenly There's Poughkeepsie." Caleb Crain opines on the dismal NEA reading report and other relevant matters in "Twilight of the Books."

"Show me a good mouser, and I'll show you a cat with bad breath."

December's Carnival of Children's Literature will showcase ideas for gift books, so here's an easy one: Garfield. And you don't even have to spend a lot of money, since collections of the grouchy fat-cat cartoons turn up frequently at thrift shops like Goodwill. The 8-year-old Garfield fan in my house thinks the cheeky feline is hilarious and quotes from the books often—plus, he has developed a love of lasagna, a Garfield staple. (Our copies cost 50 cents apiece at a library sale.)

Capable young readers who aren't that into chapter books yet will be thrilled to see Garfield under the Christmas tree. If you do decide to pay full price, check the humor section of your favorite bookstore.

Additional Garfield quotations, such as the one I used as the title's post, as well as e-cards and more, can be found at The comic strip turns 30 in 2008.

Friday Notes, 12.14

The Miss Rumphius Effect plays host to the Poetry Friday roundup today.

The deadline for the next Carnival of Children's Literature is December 16th. Kelly at Big A, little a wants to hear suggestions for gift books. Details at that blog, where you'll find the carnival itself on December 19th.

Award-winning author turns down Nestle check? Yep, Sean Taylor, who wrote the picture book When a Monster Is Born, refused the prize money from the big UK book-award sponsor. The Book Standard tells why. [link corrected 12/15]

Liz at the blog A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy is compiling a list of good YA books for boys. Go visit and make a recommendation.

New Christmas books by Kate DiCamillo and Frank (Angela's Ashes) McCourt are considered in this weekend's New York Times Book Review. You'll find critics' takes on other new children's books there, too.  Update 12/15: Over on the West Coast, Sonja Bolle chimes in on the McCourt and DiCamillo titles and a few others, in the LA Times' "Wordplay" column.

Waiting for Snow

With four to eight inches of snow forecast, schools around here have declared a day off. Three hours into the school day, there is no actual snow. But Junior does have boots, so we're ready—after an emergency snow-boot run this morning.  (Memo to me: do not give away boots without replacing them immediately.) I wish I could interest him in reading Katherine Kirkpatrick's Snow Baby, a biography of Arctic explorer Robert Peary's daughter, Marie, but with a new (to him) pair of  skis to try out, he wants to head to the backyard slalom course.

I don't know what the chickens will make of the snow. Yesterday they free-ranged right into the neighbor's yard, where Zeno crowed for a while at the top of his lungs. I summoned them back home with a piece of their favorite delicacy, cheese. To see chickens come running when you call is too funny. Last week the now very large Zeno flew onto the top of my head when I was sitting down and handing out snacks; since then, I throw the pieces from some distance away. Nothing like a spoiled rooster to make you re-think your feeding strategies.

Happy snow day from all of us here at the coop.