Kids’ books: Chicken Big (Keith Graves)

Chicken Big (Keith Graves) In our family compound, plans were afoot for a shared chicken house for a rather long time.

S. had been cutting steel and welding in between the school and kindy drop-offs for months. Finally, in September, four point-of-lay hens and four chicks came to roost.

In preparation for the chickens’ arrival, I’d bought Keith Graves’ Chicken Big when I spied it in a bookstore.

It sat for weeks in the cupboard. Things were moving slowly on the chicken palazzo front.

When we finally broke it out and read it to the kids, it was love at first sight: peals of laughter; reading it cover to cover repeatedly and literally (there are cartoons on the back cover); imitations of the characters over breakfast; and fragments of text as family code.

It is a book that’s a lot of fun. It’s a classic story about not belonging, and trying to find one’s community. Even if that community is kind of nuts, and thick, and…well, you have to read this book. I’m sniggering to myself just thinking about some of the phrasing and images.

An especially big chick finds himself in a coop of chickens and a rooster who don’t know what he is. Their declarations and panics, contrasting with the chick’s wisdom and consideration, give the narrative a madcap, very funny rhythm.

Graves’ drawings are fabulous: so expressive, witty, and capturing perfectly the craziness of the coop. The big chick is a lovely protagonist, one who is empathetic and bemused. Well worth reading, and we’ll certainly be checking out Graves’ other books. One thing I love about doing these reviews is that I inevitably find the authors’/illustrators’ websites and discover how much other work they have out there. You should see Keith Graves’ site – it’s as fun and random as Chicken Big.

Having had chickens since September – they finally arrived! – I can testify that they can be silly, mad things that panic and flutter. They can also be the most calming, pecky, busy things to watch. I’ve spent time with the kids holding milkweed for the chickens to eat, and it’s very soothing.

Snowy (Photo by Tseen Khoo)
Snowy (Photo by Tseen Khoo)

We’re averaging four eggs a day, which we alternate collecting between our households. When the chicks are up to speed, we’ll probably have about seven a day.

Right now, with the egg shortage in Melbourne, having our own chickens is suddenly a better idea than we could’ve envisaged.

We have four laying hens, and three chicks. One of the chicks, Snowy (pictured above), was pure white. She is a Sussex Coronation.

When she first came home, I commented that I didn’t like white chickens.

When I think of it, I can’t remember why I thought that. All I know is that Snowy is now a fat white hen with lavender markings, and absolutely gorgeous. She roams the communal space of our joint gardens with the four laying hens and her other chick buddies: Specky (the Red Ancona) and Pom Pom (Silky).

Below is our own mural for the chicken palazzo – it’s not as polished or immediately funny as Graves’ images, but it works where it is:

Chicken palazzo mural (Photo by Tseen Khoo)
Chicken palazzo mural (Photo by Tseen Khoo)
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