Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer


Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer
by Kelly Jones
Illustrations by Katie Kath

Readers Theater

Book Trailer

Author Interview

Illustrator Interview

Related Activities & Resources:

Author Information:
What you didn’t know you’d be asked (Kelly answers interesting questions from kids):

Kelly Jones Twitter:

Short bio:

Sweet Sixteens interview with Kelly Jones:

On the Verge interview with Kelly Jones:

American Booksellers Association interview with Kelly Jones:

Illustrator Information:
Katie Kath homepage:

Short bio on Katie Kath:

White leghorn bantam video (:48):

The Plymouth Barred Rock Chicken (2:06):

Black Bantam Cochin Frizzle (1:41):

Fubb Orpington Chicken (1:32):

Raising Speckled Sussex Chickens (5:31):

Showing Chickens:
How to show chickens: 7 steps with pictures:

A beginner’s guide to showing poultry:

Chicken Showmanship Demonstration (4;37):

Basic Information on Chickens:
FAQ about chickens:

Chicken Feed:

Chicken Coops:

Chicken Breeds:

Chicken breeds with many photos and links to each breed:

Pruning grapevines (8:43):

How to prune a grapevine (2:51):

Create a super chicken:
Create your own unusual chicken. Decide what superpowers it will have and what it will look like. Give it a name. Make your chicken using playdough and feathers. Tell why you chose the super power you did.

How to do the chicken dance:

Dance the Chicken Dance (2:42):

How to make a funky feathered chicken:

Egg carton chicken:

How to make a pom pom chick (3:00):

Rubber chicken game (scroll down until you see it):

Hopping chicken game:

Take the quiz, ‘Are Chickens Right for You?’ page 61

Calculate how long a 50 pound bag of feed will last your flock. page 70

Calculate how long a 4 gallon (64 oz.) cup of water will last your flock. page 70

If everyone in your class had 1 chicken how many linear feet of roost space would you need? How many nest boxes? page 106

Make migas. page 151

Discussion Questions:

Sophie writes to her dead uncle and grandmother. If you were to write to a dead relative, who would you choose and what would you say or ask them?

Sophie says she thought they were moving to a farm but it’s more like a big boring garden. What’s the difference between a farm and a garden?

The postman, Gregory, is the only other brown person Sophie knows besides herself and her mom. What do you think it would be like to be the only kid of your race around? Would you want to live in a town where you were different in some way from everyone else? Explain.

Sophie is from a mixed race family. What problems might she face?

In writing to the catalog people, she tells them her mom says, it’s a bad idea to tell people what you think while you’re angry. Why do you think Sophie’s mom thinks this? Do you agree? Explain.

How would you persuade your parents to let you keep a chicken. What are the pros and cons?

Sophie tells her abuelita she’s been moping around and she misses the beach where she used to live. If you moved far away from where you live now would you be excited or sad? Why? What is the thing you would miss the most? What is the one thing you would look forward to in moving?

Why does Sophie’s mom make her wear a whistle outside when there are no other people around? Do you think Sophie had to wear the whistle in L.A.?

What is pruning and why is it necessary?

Sophie’s dad tells her about poison oak. How can you tell if a plant is poisonous?

Sophie’s dad tell her to watch out for poisonous snakes. Do you know how to tell if a snake is poisonous?

Sophie finds five rusty stop signs on the farm. Is it illegal to have them? How do you think Great Uncle Jim got them?

Why do you think Great Uncle Jim has so much junk? Where do farmers throw away their trash? Do you believe farmers are hoarders?

Why won’t Sophie go wading with crawdads in the water?

Sophie’s mom is writing an article on 10 things that make a new house a home. What would you put on the ist?

Sophie gets scared because she doesn’t know who closed and bolted the chicken house door. The night sounds scare her. She still checked on the chicken at night. What does this tell you about Sophie? Would you check on a chicken at night in the dark with scary sounds? Explain.

Sophie is so scared, the hair on the back of her neck stands up. Tell about a time when you were that scared.

What would you do if you found a chicken? Do they go to the pound?

Sophie thinks her parents will freak out about her finding a chicken. What animal would make your parents freak out?

Sophie says only dumb kids in movies wait around for evil strangers to pick them off. Do you agree? Explain.

Could you go back anyway to save an animal from a stranger?

What would you think if a jam jar floated off the ground? What would you do? Would you tell anyone? Explain.

Sophie gets a letter from Redwood Farm telling her to be very careful but doesn’t tell her of what. If you received a letter like that would you be scared? What would you do?

What would you do to safeguard against a chicken thief?

Sophie locks Henrietta in the hen house knowing she doesn’t have a key to the padlock. Is this wise? Would you have done it?

Sophie sorts nails from screws and tries not to look suspicious when her parents and a woman come looking for chickens. What would you do in order to not look suspicious?

Sophie sees a woman trying to break the padlock of Henrietta’s hen house and blows her whistle. Is this wise? If you were to give advice to Sophie, what would you tell her to do?

Sophie’s dad doesn’t think Sophie should have blown the whistle. He said it’s for emergencies only. Do you think this was an emergency? Explain.

Why do you think Sophie’s dad wouldn’t help her mom look for the screwdriver?

Sophie’s dad says it’s a good thing he ran the woman with the screwdriver off since she seems to know the property so well. Why does he think he ran her off? Who really did? Why do you think Sophie’s dad says he did?

Sophie’s mom says that even though you were born here and speak perfect English you have to be twice as honest and neighborly when everyone assumes you’re an undocumented immigrant. Do you agree with this statement? If it is true what should be done to change this attitude?

Before the library lady realized Sophie’s family owned the farm she asked how long her family was working there. Why would the librarian assume there were temporary farm workers? Is this okay?

Why do you think Sue Griegson wants to steal Sophie’s chicken?

Henrietta lays a glass egg. What would you do if your pet laid a glass egg or had glass babies? If you were Sophie what would you do with it?

Ms. Griegson’s chicken can turn into a hawk. What advantage would this be for the chicken? If your chicken could turn into another animal what would you choose and why? What would you not choose and why?

Sophie needs to figure out how to catch the black chicken. How would you catch a chicken?

Sophie likes the sunflower sky paint chip. If you were to name paint chips what names would you use for yellow?

In a letter Sophie is told to refrigerate the eggs 3 days before using the barred rock chicken eggs so they don’t turn into chicks. Does this make sense? If you eat them before 3 days, can they turn into chicks in your tummy?

If everyone in your class had 1 chicken how many linear feet of roost space would you need? How many nest boxes? (page 106)

Sophie says there’s no shame in hard work and that all the work has to be done by somebody. Do you agree with this statement? Why do some people look down on other people because of the job they do? How can we change people’s attitudes?

Sophie says, “People always think Mom and I are poor. They even did it when we had some money, just because we’re brown.” Why do you think this is?

When Gregory calls to tell Sophie he’s located one of the special chickens, he asks if she knows how to take care of them. When Sophie realizes Gregory knows the chickens are ‘special’ she doesn’t confide in him because of her promise to Agnes. Do you think this is wise? How could confiding in Gregory have helped Sophie? What would you have done in Sophie’s place? If you were Gregory what would you have done and why?

If you had a chicken that turned living things to stone would you keep it or kill it? Why?

Why do you think the chicken turned the raccoon to stone?

Why did Chris’s mom kill Buffy’s chicks? Why do you think Agnes tells Sophie Buffy’s eggs must be collected daily? What do you think might happen if Sophie misses a day?

Sophie wants to go to the 4-H meeting but gets nervous when she has to meet new people. She compares talking to a group to her throat strangling on the inside and not being able to breathe. Have you ever had a reaction similar to this? What things make you feel like this and how did you get over your fear?

Sophie reads to her chickens. Do you think this helps the chickens in any way? What unusual things do you do with your pets? Do you agree with Sophie that someone should keep them so they don’t become extinct? Should there be laws governing the keeping of these animals?

Jane tells Sophie people use glass eggs to fool their hens into laying. Do you think this works in real life? Is there some trick farmers use to keep their hens laying?

Would you eat eggs from ‘special’ hens? Explain.

Sophie made migas for her parents then had a dance party. Do you have any traditions in your family that involve special foods? What are they? Why were they started and why are they important to your family?

Chris says Ms. Griegson’s new hen house is way too big for just the 3 hens she stole from Great Uncle Jim. Why do you think she made it so big?

Sophie says she isn’t going to leave the 3 chickens on Ms. Griegson’s farm even though she doesn’t really have the right to take them. Why doesn’t she have the right to take them? Explain. What would you do? Sophie, then turns around and tells Chris it’s not stealing if they’re her chickens. It seems Sophie changes her beliefs in order to manipulate Chris. What do you think Sophie really believes?

When Chris won’t help Sophie steal her chickens back she thinks you can’t really make someone do the right thing, or help you when you need help. Just like you can’t make someone trust you or be your friend. How would you persuade someone to help you if they didn’t want to?

When Henrietta and Bully are glaring at the hawk-chicken, Sophie thinks it’s a good thing Henrietta knows ‘with great power comes great responsibility’. What does this mean? Give examples of someone with great power and how it could be used in a bad way.

Book Talk Teasers:

Play the chicken squawking video where they can hear but not see and ask why they think the chicken is squawking. Tell them they are going to read a book about some special angry chickens.

Chicken squawking (1:00):

Read different parts of a few letters from Sophie:

p. 1, 2 to Mr. or Ms Catalog People, People Who Send Catalogs to People on Farms

p. 36 – 39 to Mr. James Brown, Great-Uncle Jim (remind kids that he is dead)

p. 44 to Agnes

p. 73 through end of top paragraph p. 74 “I bet the first person to figure that out was really happy about it.” to Mariposa García González, Abuelita

Read Alikes:

Humorous stories:
Cowley, Joy. Chicken feathers. Relates the story of the summer Josh spends while his mother is in the hospital awaiting the birth of his baby sister, and his pet chicken Semolina, who talks but only to him, is almost killed by a red fox. (NoveList)

Fantasy fiction, humorous fantasy, illustrated books, funny, attention-grabbing:
Pearce, Jackson. Pip Bartlett’s guide to magical creatures. Possessing an ability to talk with magical creatures, including griffins, unicorns, and Fuzzles, Pip uses her talent to update a magic reference book and investigate a fuzzles invasion in spite of her friend Tomas’ allergies. (NoveList)

Fantasy fiction, illustrated books, low fantasy,quirky, moving, sweet, dialogue-driven, witty:
DiCamillo, Kate. Flora & Ulysses: the illuminated adventures. Rescuing a squirrel after an accident involving a vacuum cleaner, comic-reading cynic Flora Belle Buckman is astonished when the squirrel, Ulysses, demonstrates astonishing powers of strength and flight after being revived. (NoveList)

Canadian fiction, low fantasy, amusing:
Bowering, George. Attack of the Toga Gang. Thirteen-year-old Harry Fieldstone and his friends start a Poets’ Club at school, then Harry stumbles across a ring. He discovers the ring gives him different powers every day. Harry and the gang learn that the ring can be traced to ancient Rome. Now a centuries-old organization known as the Toga Gang is determined to take the ring for themselves. (NoveList)

Diary novels, illustrated books, low fantasy, amusing, moving, opbeat, attention-grabbing, richly detailed, black-and-white, cartoony:
Kuhlman, Evan. The last invisible boy. In the wake of his father’s sudden death, twelve-year-old Finn feels he is becoming invisible as his hair and skin become whiter by the day, and so he writes and illustrates a book to try to understand what is happening and to hold on to himself and his father. (NoveList)

Low fantasy, quirky, amusing, moving:
Booraem, Ellen. Texting the underworld. Conor O’Neill faces his cowardice and visits the underworld to bargain with the Lady who can prevent the imminent death of a family member, but first Ashling, the banshee who brought the news, wants to visit his middle school. (NoveList)

First-person narratives, low fantasy, amusing, offbeat, attention-grabbing:
Cuevas, Michelle. Confessions of an imaginary friend: a memoir by Jacques Papier. When Jacques Papier discovers he’s imaginary, he sets off on a journey to find his true home. (NoveList)

Fantasy fiction, low fantasy, multiple perspectives, quirky, amusing, offbeat, attention-grabbing:
Galveston, Louise. In Todd we trust. Twelve-year-old Todd Butroche has been rather distracted by a girl in middle school and other concerns, and the Toddlians, the tiny civilization created by his benevolent grossness, are convinced that he is angry with them–especially when they are confronted with a vile red thing (a moldy apple) and its horrifying inhabitant (a worm). (NoveList)

Canadian fiction, first person narratives, low fantasy, amusing, conversational:
Levy, Joanne. Small medium at large. After being hit by lightning, twelve-year-old Lilah, who has a crush on classmate Andrew Finkel, discovers that she can communicate with dead people, including her grandmother who wants Lilah to find a new wife for Lilah’s divorced father. (NoveList)

Richly detailed, fantasy fiction and the subject magic:
Funke, Cornelia Caroline. Ghost knight. Eleven-year-old Jon Whitcroft and new friend Ella summon the ghost of Sir William Longspee, who may be able to protect Jon from a group of ghosts that threatens him harm from the day he arrives at Salisbury Cathedral’s boarding school. Includes historical notes. (NoveList)

Funke, Cornelia Caroline. Reckless. After his father goes missing, 12-year-old Jacob discovers that a mirror in his house is a portal to another realm — the dark and magical Mirrorworld. For many years after discovering the portal, Jacob visits Mirrorworld and retrieves enchanted fairy-tale objects (such as locks of Rapunzel’s hair) for profit, but when his younger brother, Will, follows him into the mirror, disaster looms. — Description by Ellen Foreman. (NoveList)

Jones, Diana Wynne. The game. Sent to a boisterous family gathering in Ireland by her overly strict grandmother, orphaned Hayley feels out of place until her unruly cousins include her in a special game involving travel through the mythosphere, the place where all the world’s stories can be found, and where some secrets of her past are revealed. (NoveList)

Jones, Diana Wynne. The Islands of Chaldea. Aileen’s family of magic makers includes Aunt Beck, the most powerful magician on Skarr, but her own magic does not show itself until a mission for the King and a magical cat help her find strength and confidence. (NoveList)

Le Guin, Ursula K. Gifts. When a young man in the Uplands blinds himself rather than use his gift of “unmaking”–a violent talent shared by members of his family–he upsets the precarious balance of power among rival, feuding families, each of which has a strange and deadly talent of its own. (NoveList)

Martin, George R. R. The ice dragon. Leaving in its wake desolate cold and frozen land, the legendary ice dragon has never been tamed until it meets Adara, a winter child who looks to the creature to help save her world from destruction. (NoveList)

Pullman, Phillip. I was a rat! A little boy turns life in London upside down when he appears at the house of a lonely old couple and insists he was a rat. (NoveList)

Rowling, J. K. The tales of Beedle the bard. A collection fairy tales for young wizards and witches, with each story followed by observations on Wizarding history, personal reminiscences, and information on the story’s key elements by Hogwarts headmaster, Albus Dumbledore. (NoveList)

Williams, Tad. The dragons of ordinary farm. When their great-uncle Gideon invites Tyler and Lucinda to his farm for the summer, they discover his animals are extremely unusual. (NoveList)

Amusing, fantasy fiction and the subject magic:
Shurtliff, Liesl. Jack: the true story of Jack and the beanstalk. Relates the tale of Jack who, after trading his mother’s milk cow for magic beans, climbs a beanstalk to seek his missing father in the land of giants. (NoveList)

Sweet, J. H. Moonflower and the pearl of paramour. After a powerful wizard casts a spell separating two young lovers from each other by trapping them in a painting and a book, Moonflower and her fairy friends embark on a mission to free them. (NoveList)


Book Reviews:

Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer.
By Kelly Jones. Illus. by Katie Kath.
2015. 224p. Knopf, $16.99 (9780385755528); lib. ed., $19.99 (9780385755535); e-book (9780385755542). Gr. 3–5.
First published April 1, 2015 (Booklist).

Twelve-year-old Sophie Brown has a lot on her plate: her beloved abuelita is dead; her father has lost his job, so the family has moved from L.A. to her great-uncle Jim’s farm while they regroup; she has no friends; and most people she encounters in the predominantly white town think she is a migrant worker. In an attempt to stave off loneliness, Sophie contacts a poultry farm and requests information on purchasing and raising chickens. In a sequence of letters, Sophie tells the story of how she comes into the possession of five extraordinary chickens, foils the attempts of a neighboring farmer to steal her distinctive poultry, and eventually finds her place in her new community. Full-page illustrations work with the epistolary format to tell a story that is as much about the process of grieving as it is about supernatural chickens. The combination of real-life emotion and otherworldly farming makes for a comedic story with the right amount of pathos. —Kara Dean


Horn Book:
Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer
by Kelly Jones; illus. by Katie Kath
Intermediate      Knopf     213 pp.
5/15     978-0-385-75552-8      $16.99
Library ed. 978-0-385-75553-5     $19.99 g
e-book ed. 978-0-385-75554-2     $10.99

Moving to a farm inherited from her great-uncle may not be city-girl Sophie’s first choice for improving her family’s financial situation, but she’s determined to make the best of it. Chickens would make the farm more interesting, so when she finds a flier in the barn advertising the titular fowl, she writes in. Responses from “Agnes” at Redwood Farm come in the form of an extensive correspondence course in chicken-raising, and in the meantime decidedly unusual chickens find their way to the farm: Henrietta has telekinetic powers, and Chameleon is aptly named. Sophie quickly becomes devoted to her flock, but so does Ms. Griegson, a neighbor with her own interest in chickens with superpowers. It’s new-girl Sophie’s word against Ms. Griegson’s in a town unused to new people, especially new families with one white and one Mexican American parent; to the townspeople’s credit, they ultimately give Sophie the benefit of the doubt. The epistolary format consists mostly of letters in Sophie’s earnest voice; often the addressee is either her late abuelita or her great-uncle Jim in various iterations of the afterlife (“Mictlan”; “Heaven’s Dance Party”; “Valhalla, maybe?”). Sophie’s unique way of figuring life out on her own makes her easy to root for and provides entertainment beyond the inherent humor of chickens. Black-and-white illustrations match the mostly light feel of the text. SHOSHANA FLAX (May/June 2015 Horn Book Magazine)


School Library Journal:
Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer
Gr 4–6—Sophie Brown is new to farm life, new to being one of the only “brown people” in town (the others being her mother and Gregory, the mailman), and definitely new to caring for chickens—and these are some challenging chickens. To help herself adjust to life away from Los Angeles and her extended family, she writes letters to her great-uncle Jim and her beloved Abuelita, both recently deceased, and embarks on a correspondence course in poultry care with the mysterious Agnes of Redwood Farm Supply. Agnes’s poorly typed responses assure Sophie that the chickens that keep turning up on the farm (including Henrietta, a small white hen with a permanent unibrow of fury) belonged to her great-uncle, from whom Sophie’s father inherited the farm and who implores her to keep the chickens safe—and to be careful. But how will she protect chickens that are capable of levitating their own coop, becoming invisible, and turning enemies to stone? And why does the town’s resident chicken expert, Ms. Griegson, seem intent on stealing Sophie’s brood? Told in letters, quizzes, newspaper clippings, and delicious ink drawings reminiscent of Quentin Blake, this middle grade epistolary novel has a little magic and a lot of warm family humor. Jones delivers a dynamic Latina protagonist in Sophie, who describes her experiences in satisfying detail: the discomfort of facing microaggressions based on her heritage (such as when the town librarian assumes that she and her family are migrant workers); love and concern for her parents, both struggling to find and keep work; and willingness to learn and grow despite typical tween self-consciousness. VERDICT Readers will cheer for Sophie and clamor for more of those amazing chickens. Exceptional, indeed.—Amy Martin, Oakland Public Library, CA


The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books:
Jones, Kelly. Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer. Illustrated by Katie Kath. Knopf / Random House, 2015. hb 9780385755528, glb 9780385755535, ebook 9780385755542, pb 9780385755559

In this epistolary novel, twelve-year-old L.A. native Sophie and her parents are adjusting to life on the rural California farm their family has inherited. Lonely [End Page 29] Sophie, having written to a catalogue in desperation, begins receiving letters from someone named Agnes at Redwood Farm Supply about the farm chickens. The chickens are an unusual bunch, from Henrietta, an angry-looking Bantam White Leghorn who lays mysterious glass eggs and can make objects levitate, to Chameleon, a timid Barred Plymouth Rock hen who has powers of invisibility, to Buffy, a Buff Orpington whose progeny have the cockatrice skill of turning living creatures to stone by looking at them. Sophie also writes letters to her beloved deceased abuelita, and to her late Great-Uncle Jim about learning how to handle the chickens, making new friends, and keeping the hens safe from Ms. Griegson, a neighboring farmer who covets the chickens for their unusual powers. Sophie, her parents, and their neighbor are skillfully drawn and refreshingly diverse (Sophie’s mom is Latina; Gregory, Sophie’s mail-carrier buddy, is black; and Jane, the feedstore clerk, has a girlfriend). The letter-writing device effectively conveys the story, and the mystery of who is answering Sophie’s letters at Redwood Farm Supply is especially engaging. Kath’s monochromatic illustrations, stylistically somewhere between Quentin Blake and Jennifer Plecas, add humor and energy and help tell the story in between letters. This will appeal to both the kids who like realistic family stories and those who prefer the fantastical, and chicken-lovers will find this informative as well as satisfying. Review Code: R — Recommended. Grades 4-6. Jeannette Hulick (The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, September 2015 (Vol. 69, No. 1))