In this charming, funny and thoughtful novel for upper elementary and lower middle school students, 12 year old Sophie Brown is feeling lost and sad when her family moves from an apartment in LA to her dead great-uncle Jim’s run-down farm after her father loses his job. So when a highly unusual chicken, which Sophie names Henrietta, turns up, Sophie is determined to keep her and the rest of the decidedly odd chickens that subsequently appear.
Written as a series of letters from Sophie to her departed grandmother and great-uncle Jim, as well as to Redwood Farm Supply, source of the peculiar chickens, Sophie’s shy, optimistic, resilient and persistent personality shines through.
The simple black and white illustrations are bursting with energy and personality, particularly those of the chickens including the perpetually pissed off Henrietta, at the top of the pecking order. And the one of Sophie and her parents’ dance party is a warmhearted snapshot, adding insight to their relationship.
There is some subtle and sophisticated commentary on race and economic status. Sophie and her mother are the only ‘brown’ people, around, other than Gregory the mailman, which adds to Sophie’s isolation – even the otherwise friendly and helpful librarian had asked Sophie how long her family was working at the farm. And when a villainous neighbor makes a false claim on the chickens, her mother is reluctant to pursue it as “you have to be twice as honest and neighborly when everyone assumes you’re an undocumented worker.”
As the chickens open up some social possibilities for Sophie, and her family’s finances stabilize a little, the novel ends on a satisfying note, while leaving the door open for some possible future chicken-driven sequels.