I’ve always had an interest in the visual and performing arts, although my only claim to having any modicum of talent in that arena is writing. One of the pleasures of creating this blog has been meeting and sharing the spotlight with other chicken folks.
I first became aware of Randy when he stumbled upon my site and left me a comment: “I just ran across your blog this afternoon and an hour later, I’m still here! I’m amazed at your prodigious output of high quality content. I am in awe of the breadth of the chicken-related stuff you cover and appreciate your dedication to researching the real scoop on a particular subject rather than trotting out the same old misinformation that is so prevalent on the internet.”
I reached out to Randy, a fellow chicken blogger and retired microbiologist, to ask if he’d like to contribute a post on my blog. He declined, citing his busy schedule. I persisted, and asked if he’d consider letting me repost something he’d already written.
I thought his annual book review fit into my series ‘When Art Meets Chickens’ curated posts featuring artists, crafters and writers who are inspired by the humble chicken in their work. Luckily for me, Randy concurred and here’s his first post shared with my Bitchin’ Chickens audience.
Randy’s Favourite Books 2022
I spend a lot of time reading about chicken stuff. Other chicken blogs and Facebook pages. Chicken periodicals. And all those books that have a chicken theme or a chicken connection. It has become my tradition, once a year, to assemble all the chicken books I’ve read over the year, narrow them down to a few favorites, and say a few words about them. And here they are. This year I’ve decided to focus entirely on fiction. As you will see, there are some great chicken stories out there.
Jack & Anne Rudloe
Jack Rudloe is a marine researcher and educator, naturalist, and Florida panhandle larger-than-life personality. He wrote Chicken Wars with his late wife, marine biologist Anne Rudloe almost twenty years ago. By serendipity and happenstance, I’ve just discovered it. It is not an easy book to discover. Since it is only available in a Kindle edition, it isn’t a book you can find in your local bookstore. The book is a bit obscure, but it shouldn’t be. It’s an amazing novel.
In a short promotional YouTube video still floating around on the web, Jack Rudloe describes his search to find a publisher for Chicken Wars. “This book has been bounced around to all different places, and someday it will be a great book because it has been rejected so unilaterally by so many places.” He describes one agent’s reaction. “All I had to read was [that it] begins with a rooster talking to God…I knew enough that I didn’t want to touch this book.”
Yes, folks, there is a talking rooster in this book, and he does, in fact, converse with God. It brings to mind the magical realism of Salman Rushdie. Rushdie has ignited fury for bravely telling the stories that he has felt compelled to tell. Like Rushdie, the Rudloes have never been afraid to speak truth to power. And perhaps they were not concerned that this book might offend certain groups. Religious fundamentalists may take issue with the way the book expands the Old Testament creation story, and mixes in a heavy dose of reincarnation. And, well, the Big Poultry elite will object to the entire premise of the book—mistreated chickens declaring war on the human race.
In the cosmology created by the Rudloes, there is “The Wheel of Life and Death.” “A finite number of souls exist in the Universe, and the number of souls remains the same. If ten cows get slaughtered, then ten kittens are born. When dinosaurs disappeared, mastodons appeared.” A soul gets to experience many facets of existence since it always reincarnates as a different species.
Then, there is “The Great Agreement” that came about when God expelled Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. While some of the animals got along well with humans in the Garden, others did not. The Great Agreement mandated that humans’ animal friends would become the domestic animals. The rest would be wild. The domestic animals agreed that humans could consume the eggs, the milk, and the bodies of some of their number. In return the humans agreed to protect, nurture, and care for them.
By the 21st century, The Wheel of Life is out of whack. Humans have stopped honoring the Great Agreement. Humans keep chickens and other domestic animals in deplorable conditions. They have turned broiler chickens into freaks. Broilers grow so fast that they are slaughtered by the millions when they are still babies. Meanwhile, many wild animals are nearly extinct. Thus, the options for returning souls in The Wheel are becoming limited. Some become humans. Most become broiler chickens.
God needs to solve this problem, and decides he should send an emissary to earth. He chooses the just-returned soul of a famous diplomat, Augustus Herkissing. (Henry Kissinger? Probably.) Herkissing returns to Earth—reincarnated as a red rooster. But he’s a special rooster; he can talk to humans and all other species of animals. And he raises the chickens up to lead them to the Promised Land.
Finally, millions of chickens revolt against the evil chicken factories with “a roar of clucking, screeching and caterwauling.” They are “a raging tide of white chickens…their numbers endless…a surging tidal bore, engulfing the landscape.” But they are, after all, chickens. Will they prevail? Will the Great Agreement be restored? Will the Wheel of Life come back into balance?
I was spellbound from the first page until the end of this wild tale. If you appreciate chickens as I do, and if you are as concerned as I am about the way farming and animal husbandry have gone off the rails, you also will be spellbound by this book.
(Aloha Chicken Mysteries)
Quill Canyon Press
Don’t look for a deeper meaning in Nest Egg. It’s a murder mystery, pure and simple. It is the first in the 16-book “Aloha Chicken Mystery” series that Josi Avari has written since 2019. She pens ‘em fast—and I’m willing to bet that she has as much fun writing them as you will reading them.
The “Aloha Chicken Mysteries.” The title explains the premise. The stories take place in Hawaii. There are chickens. Why wouldn’t that be fun?
East coast sophisticate Saffron Sky’s life changes dramatically when she inherits her uncle’s Hawaiian chicken farm. When she arrives at the run-down farm, she discovers that her late uncle was a hoarder. Piles of a lifetime’s-worth of possessions and junk fill the house. And chickens are nesting in those piles, and wandering around them like free birds.
Saffron rolls up her sleeves and begins the task of corralling chickens and cleaning up the mess. Then there is a murder. And as Saffron cleans, she discovers there are clues to the murder in her uncle’s possessions and junk.
Saffron tried to sleuth out the truth behind murder. It is a tough job, but Saffron has to do it. She must explore the tropical Hawaiian paradise. She has to sample the delightful island cuisine. Every single day. She must hang out with hunky surfer dudes. And she must interact with the remarkable cast of characters who inhabit her small town.
Saffron knows that to make an omelet, she will need to crack a few eggs, but will she crack this case?
Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer
Illustrations: Katie Kath
(For ages 9-11)
Los Angeles twelve-year-old Sophie Brown’s life changes dramatically when her dad inherits his uncle’s rural chicken farm. When Sophie’s family arrive at the run-down farm, they discover that Uncle Jim was a hoarder. Piles of a lifetime’s-worth of possessions and junk fill the farm.
Wait? Isn’t this how Nest Egg begins? Let’s scroll up and have a look. Um…. yep. Same beginning. But you’ve got to agree that the set-up is compelling. Plus, that mystery and this kids’ book take completely different tracks.
Sophie misses the city, misses her friends, and feels out of place with her brown skin in this rural white community. But she passes her time by exploring the piles of junk Uncle Jim has left behind. And then, one-by-one, Uncle Jim’s chickens come home to roost. And they capture Sophie’s complete attention. They are not ordinary chickens.
Henrietta, the bantam white leghorn lays glass eggs and can manipulate objects with her mind. Chameleon, the barred rock, can make herself disappear. Each of Uncle Jim’s chickens has a unique superpower.
The book tells the story through letters. Sophie writes letters that she does not send. She writes to her recently deceased grandmother. She writes to Uncle Jim. And she stacks the completed letters on her desk.
But she mails the letters that she writes to Redwood Farm Supply, the hatchery where Sophie thinks Uncle Jim got his chickens. Then, she starts receiving badly typed and cryptic replies. When Sophie learns that Redwood Farm Supply is no longer in business because the owner has died, the mystery deepens. And speaking of mysteries, what’s up with the mysterious woman who keeps trying to steal Sophie’s chickens?
Will Sophie keep her hens safe? Will she discover the secret behind their special powers and the inexplicable Redwood Farm Supply? There are twists and turns in this story. Your child won’t want to put it down.
The New Rooster
Rilla Alexander (author/illustrator)
(For ages 4-8)
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
In author/illustrator Rilla Alexander’s new book, New Rooster has just arrived in his new country for his new job. He’s been hired by the ZZZ Hotel to announce the beginning of each new day to the hotel’s international guests. On his first day, New Rooster launches into a loud crow with the confidence of someone who is good at his job. It has no effect on the sleeping guests. None of the guests speak Pig Latin, New Rooster’s native language. So “ockcay away oodleday ooday” means nothing to any of them.
Rooster is very surprised. He tries again, but he only gets annoyed shouts telling him to be quiet. In a variety of languages. None of them Pig Latin. Feeling like a failure and sure that he will lose his job, New Rooster decides that he must go home in defeat. But before he leaves, he cooks himself a good breakfast, because cooking has always made him happy.
While the hotel guests had not understood New Rooster’s words, the smell of his breakfast transcends language. New Rooster shares his breakfast with everybody. And over breakfast they teach him how to crow in all their languages. While different languages can separate us, the appreciation of good food brings us together.
New Rooster keeps his job. Every morning, before he crows in many languages, he serves breakfast. All is well. I love this book!
Jimmy Fallon & Jennifer Lopez
Illustrations: Andrea Campos
(for ages 1-6)
Feiwel & Friends
Everybody loves comedian and TV host Jimmy Fallon. And everybody loves actress and singer Jennifer Lopez. And they’ll love this “bilingual playtime adventure”. Con Pollo is a collaboration between Fallon, Lopez, and Latinx illustrator Andrea Campos.
Pollo is the name of the friendly, fun chicken in this book. Anything that you like to do is way more fun if you do it con Pollo. You can go skateboarding by yourself, or you can patina con Pollo. You can dance alone, or you can bailar con Pollo. Fly solo, or volar con Polo.
Your kids will enjoy the cute illustrations of this busy little chicken. And they’ll pick up some Spanish along the way.
Randy Graham gardens, forages for wild edibles, and spends an inordinate amount of time whacking invasive buckthorn on an acreage in Minnesota’s St. Croix River Valley where he lives with his wife. They share their acreage with some furry pets and a flock of chickens and ducks, which, let’s face it, are really just feathered pets. In his ever-shrinking free time, Randy writes about hipster hens, wonder eggs, and the meaning of life at Randy’s Chicken Blog.