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Sunday, September 23, 2012

A Hen for Izzy Pippik, written by Aubrey Davis and illusrated by Marie Lafrance. Kids Can Press, 2012. $18.95 ages 4 and up

"Before long, roosters crowed from rooftops and hens nested in every nook. Hundreds of chickens flapped about the square. They toppled trashcans, fought for food and cackled from morning to night. They grew rowdier by the day, and people's grumbles grew with them."

Look at those jaunty beings, heading away together. They are filled with joy and panache. There is something about the two of them that lets us know they were meant to be together, and are very pleased to be.

We meet Shaina sitting on the steps of her family home, listening to the inside sounds, while fretting about the state of things. She wants to be busy and helpful; there are no jobs for a young girl in a town that is suffering its way through the desperate times of the Depression.  As she sits and worries, 'a peckety peck on her toe' causes her to jump up and pay attention. A chicken has made an appearance and Shaina is intent on finding its owner, After some searching through the market stalls she discovers a broken crate, with Izzy Pippik's name on it. Shaina decides that the hen is his and she will keep it until he returns.

Her mother and grandfather are delighted with thoughts of chicken dinner; but Shaina will hear none of it. Izzy Pippik will be back, and his chicken will be waiting for him. She is a tenacious protector of Yevka and her progeny. Twelve eggs hatch twelve chicks who cause chaos in Izzy's house:

"In a few weeks, twelve fuzzy chicks were peeping and pecking and poking about. They ate the baby's biscuits and spilled Grandpa's soup. They scratched Mama's stockings to pieces. They grew peskier by the day, and Mama's grumbles grew with them."

Out they go, onto the street, where the townspeople greet them with an eye for sustenance. Shaina remains protective and will not let them touch the chickens. They belong to someone else. Soon the town is overrun with tame chickens, a surefire draw for inquisitive visitors and a rare boon to a town in dire straits. What will happen when Izzy Pippik returns, as Shaina is so sure he will?

Aubrey Davis is a skillful storyteller and he brings that storytelling voice to this book, making it a perfect read aloud. His careful choice of language is such fun to read, and I know I will be sharing it in classrooms often. He has created a memorable, honest young lady in Shaina. She is worthy of our admiration and is the living definition of chutzpah:

"Shaina pointed to the enormous flock fluttering about the square.
"But I only lost this hen," he said.
"These are her chicks, her chicks' chicks and her chicks' chicks' chicks,"
she explained. "If she's yours, they're all yours."

Using pencil colored in Photoshop, Marie Lafrance takes us into the heart of Shaina's home and community with her humor and strong, emotional details. I love her use of color...quiet and calm in shades of olive green, grey, brown and blue. She uses fiery red for Izzy's bow and Yevka's comb, always bringing our attention back to them, which is right where it should be.

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