Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer, by Kelly Jones (Knopf Books for Young Readers, ages 8-11, May 2015), reviewed on a lot of blogs since it came out, but didn't pay much attention, assuming it was a nice friendly story about a girl taking up chicken raising (which it is). But either the bloggers were being careful to avoid spoilers in their posts, or I wasn't reading attentively, but I did not know that the titular chickens were so unusual that this was most definitely a fantasy, and neither did I know that the main character, Sophie, and her mom are, to use Sophie's term, brown people (her mom's family is Mexican).
The story is told in letters that Sophie writes to three people, two of whom she knows won't write back because of being dead--the owner of Redwood Farm Supply, purveyors of unusual chickens, her great-uncle Jim, whose farm her family has inherited, with bonus unusual chickens, and her Abuela. Sophie's voice in her letters is just lovely, really good reading--she can be forthcoming and to the point, but also reflective, contemplative, and descriptive.
And she's got lots of interesting things to write about to her Abuela. She tells how her parents are coping with their new life (mixedly; her dad is unemployed and her mom is frantically keeping money coming in through freelance writing--the book includes everyone's to do lists, and the list of articles the mom is working on at various points is both amusing in its own right and interesting as a metacommentary on the state of the family). She tells of her own loneliness in an agricultural landscape where people are spread so much thinner than in her old city home, and where what people there are are white (except the mailman, who is an utterly lovely, friendly, reliable, helpful mailman of color. He is a great mailman). And she talks about her uncle's chickens, who one by one come back to the farm, and who are much more than a bit Unusual (in fantastical ways!)
Sophie has lots of questions for her Uncle Jim and the Redwood Farm folks about keeping chickens in general, and her chickens in particular. (Bits of Redwood Farms' chicken care correspondence course are shared with the reader, and you can also take their quiz along with Sophie to determine if you are ready to take on the care of chickens). As the story unfolds, she learns more about her particular birds (and reads The Hoboken Chicken Emergency out loud to them), makes friends, and becomes a more confident member of her new agricultural community, foiling the plot of a would-be chicken kidnapper and making good progress toward becoming a truly exceptional poultry farmer.
Usually when I'm reading a book I enjoy this much, I don't notice the illustrations, but Katie Kath's pictures add to the friendliness so well I couldn't help but appreciate them! There are lots of them, and this, coupled with the relatively short letters, lists, and other breaks in the text make this a good one for young readers who aren't quite ready for doorstoppers.
It is a sweet and funny and warm story, so much so that I almost (but not quite) wished I still had chickens myself.....and it is so nice to see everyday magic that's really honest a goodness magic popping up in real life (daily life type magic) happening to a brown American girl like Sophie (not many of these. I can't think of another one like it).