Sunday, November 30, 2008

Review of Chicken Feathers by Joy Cowley

We had a hen named Samantha who used to come sit in my lap and whose fondness for standing under the sprinklers was her eventual downfall (hens and water do not mix well; she caught a fatal cold). There was Henrietta, a plucky red hen with lethal-looking spurs and a bossy personality. Kaya and Griffin used to try to roost on my shoulders when they were gawky tweeners. There have been plenty of other hens, all rather sweet and dim-witted – as chicks they pecked at their own toes, mistaking them for worms, and many of them don’t have the sense to get out of the rain. Granted, it doesn’t rain much here, but still.

Not one hen has ever spoken to me, and so I can only assume that not one had the brains, wit, and sheer chutzpah of Semolina, the aged and crotchety heroine of Chicken Feathers by Joy Cowley (Philomel, 2008). She only talks to Josh, her adopted chick of a human boy, and it’s a good thing she does, because he needs a confidante – his mom is in the hospital due to a risky pregnancy, his cranky, hen-scorning grandma has moved in to cook and clean, and his old friend and new crush Annalee has acquired a figure and a boyfriend.

No one believes that Semolina actually talks to Josh, which makes for a lonely and confusing summer. But Josh and Semolina manage to save the inhabitants of coop #3 from a fox – who is then hell-bent on revenge.

This is a weirdly realistic novel; in fact, I hesitate to call it a fantasy, despite the talking chicken. It’s clear to me that she does talk, because there is no ambiguity about the things she tells him and because at the very end she talks to everyone, even the “biggies.” Now, we never do learn their reaction to this talking hen, so maybe she didn’t really talk – but I refuse to buy that. She’s a talking hen, darn it, and that’s all there is to it. And she is stubborn, cantankerous, and a worrywart with a passion for home-brew (just like Josh’s grandma, he realizes at one point). The language is simple, with just a bit of down-home folksiness. The characters are drawn with a spare but affectionate brush, which matches their own uncomplicated natures.

This is a charmer of a story, with humorous drawings to go with it (Semolina is one bedraggled but dignified hen). Recommended for everyone – a great read-aloud for ages 4 and up, and for readers grades 2 – 4.


  1. Josh and Semolina remind me of the photography of Richard Samuel Roberts.
    A True Likeness: The South of Richard Samuel Roberts 1920-1936 (Paperback)

    Professor Plum

  2. I loved the photo on the cover...