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Monday, November 19, 2012

City Chickens, by Christime Heppermann. Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, Thomas Allen & Son, 2012. $19.99 ages 7 and up

"Look through the peephole to discover a place like no other - an inner-city animal shelter called Chicken Run Rescue. At this shelter, no dogs or cats wait in cages for people to fall in love with them and give them homes."

And so, we are introduced to the remarkable shelter at the home of Bert and Mary Britton Clouse, residents of Minneapolis, Minnesota and caregivers extraordinaire. The abundance of clear detailed photographs are sure to garner attention from the moment you open this book's pages. It is not your run-of-the-mill animal shelter. It houses feathery 'guests', who are lucky enough to thrive under the care of this dedicated husband-and-wife team. You don't even have to look closely; chickens are everywhere:

"In the garden, taking dust baths.
In the kitchen, eating spaghetti.
In the living room, laying eggs
under the couch.
In a playpen in the dining room,
recovering from an illness.
In the second-floor bathroom,
nesting in the shower stall.
In the house and in the yard,
upstairs and downstairs, on
a bench or a perch, on top of a
table, or beside it, crowing."

It is a thing of wonder! Mary loves every chicken that needs rescue and promises each one of them that 'life is about to change.' Right, she is. The author describes the varied circumstances that might result in chickens being rescued: lost in parks, alleys, and garages, left as garbage, cockfighting rings, school classrooms (where hatching chicks is cool, but what do you do with them once hatched?), along roadways. Mary loves them all!

Christine Heppermann also introduces us to the girl who would be become Mary Britton Clouse. She grew up loving animals, studied art following graduation, met her future husband, and moved  to Minneapolis where they started taking in 'throw-away' animals. The rest is their history. They had a lot to do to make their home and backyard conducive to the care and rehabilitation of the more than fifty birds that Minneapolis Animal Control impounds every year. They then needed a permit and to get the word out that they were ready. In the ensuing years, they have managed to take many chickens into their care, find homes for them, and look for more.

There is another focus for their story:

"Mary's heart aches when she thinks about the more than eight billion chickens raised for food in the United States every year -...they spend their short lives on large commercial farms."

Their treatment is abhorrent. Mary and Bert ensure that conditions for their guests are as welcoming and comfortable as they can possibly be. Their chickens do what chickens are meant to do. Each chapter informs young readers of the work they do, and the reasons they do it. The author does not hedge from telling that some awful things happen to chickens elsewhere, without painting too graphic a picture for her young audience.
Following the text, the author provides a note and includes some of Mary's artwork. In the note, she talks about the allure of the chickens she met when she visited with the Clouses to gather research for this book. Her infatuation with the 'guests' led her and the Heppermann family to adopt two of the birds, and to learn to love them as Mary and Bert do. She also includes a section entitled, How to Care for City Chickens, and follows it up with alternatives to hatching projects for educators and additional sources used for her research.

If you have a child on your list who loves animals, this would be a unique and wonderful gift!

Check out for today's rouudup for Nonfiction Monday!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your informative review of this wonderful book about the work and love for chickens of Mary Britton Clouse and Bert Clouse, the amazing founder-directors of Chicken Run Rescue of Minneapolis. They are helping to change the way people look at chickens as well as showing the beauty and zest of chickens and their advocates. CITY CHICKENS is a treasure.

    Karen Davis, President, United Poultry Concerns.