by Doreen Cronin
2011 | 119 pages | Chapter Book
The Trouble with Chickens is a chapter book by Doreen Cronin, who is the author of a bunch of hilarious picture books, including Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type. In this, her first longer book for kids, she introduces us to J.J. Tully, a retired search-and-rescue dog, who despite his suspicion of chickens, is roped into helping Millicent, whom he calls Moosh, find her lost baby chicks. The story is told in the first person, mainly from J.J.'s point of view, and includes lots of humor, interesting vocabulary, and several surprise plot twists.
I was so pleasantly surprised by this book. Not only was it laugh out loud funny, with clever turns of phrase and well-timed punchlines, it was also just really well-written. The first sentence alone is fantastic: "It was a hot, sunny day when I met that crazy chicken." But that is just the beginning of the wonderful ways Cronin plays with language throughout the text. J.J.'s voice is absolutely perfect for his character. His deadpan tone and wry sense of humor really create the atmosphere of the story and wonderfully develop his character as a dog with a dangerous past, who has seen it all. Cronin also creates these great rules and concepts that define how animals behave and interact with one another. J.J. notes the differences between indoor and outdoor words, for example. He also calculates time according to species. An hour in dog time is seven hours in people time, "[w]hich translates into forty-three hours in chicken time." There is a human in the story - Barb is the owner of J.J., the chickens, and Vince, the rival dog who lives in the house - but the drama of the book belongs solely to the animals and especially to the duplicity of the chickens.
I think it's really difficult to write a story for early readers that is both easy enough to read and interesting enough to attract readers. Cronin has managed not only to entertain me with this story, but also to produce a really sophisticated book that shifts between points of view, tricks the reader with red herrings, and comes together in a clever surprise ending. I do think some of those sophisticated aspects make it a book for kids on the older end of the early chapter book audience - eight and nine year olds, most likely - but it's a definite standout of the genre for this year, and one of my favorite 2011 reads.
I borrowed The Trouble with Chickens from my local public library.
NOTE: This book was nominated by Amanda Snow for the 2011 Cybils Awards in the Easy Reader/Early Chapter Book category. I am a first-round panelist in this category, but this review reflects my opinions only, not those of any other panelist, or the panel as a whole. Thanks!