Are You Ready to Hatch an Unusual Chicken? by Kelly Jones, illustrated by Katie Kath.
Borzoi, Alfred A. Knopf, Penguin Random House, New York, 2018.
Speculative/realistic fiction epistolary novel, 312 pages.
Lexile: 840L .
AR Level: not yet leveled.
NOTE: Sequel to Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer.
Sophie is back! and now using email, receiving chicks and eggs by mail, and facing the Unusual Poultry Committee. Can she hatch the new chicks, pass her inspection test, and help everybody get along?
If you read my review of the previous book, or the post where I wished for a sequel, then you can guess that we preordered this book as soon as I knew of its existence. We loved the first book, and I’m thrilled that this book, unusual both in concept and format, has now become a series.
This book brings several changes. Sophie is now corresponding by email, although she still writes long, heartfelt letters to her beloved Abuelita and other physical correspondence and ephemera are still an important part of the novel. The previous book took place over the summer, but this one involves school. Which means, of course, a whole new round of microaggressions as Sophie meets new teachers and students. They are handled just as deftly as in the previous book.
Sophie has some friends from the poultry club, but also makes some new friends including one who is Xicana just like her. And yes, she’s distinctly identified as Xicana in this novel. Our friend Gregory the mailman is identified as Black, and Jane’s girlfriend Violet also gets some page time. The kids lived through their disappointment that Sophie is apparently not Afro-Latina from her mother’s side.
Her cousin Lupe is going to attend college nearby, and will be living with their family for the first year. Lupe is a valuable mentor and helps Sophie with some things that she doesn’t feel comfortable bothering her parents about. Visiting Lupe’s college campus also involves an encounter with some drive-by racist comments.
It is still surprising to see this stuff sensitively and accurately portrayed in a book where it is not the focus of the plot. Jones does many rare things unusually well in this book. I sincerely hope the series continues. We will definitely keep supporting it by buying these and recommending them to our friends and librarians.
There is some discussion of shady friends Lupe has, and Sophie’s parents unfairly blame her for a chicken mishap. The introduction of Lupe and a few other teen and young adult characters add a new dimension to this series. It’s still kept appropriate for whole-family reading, but Sophie now has some role models for her future self, something that was seriously lacking in her new home.
Lupe is also able to directly face prejudice in a way that Sophie isn’t always comfortable doing yet. And her presence also explains to parents the value of kids having relatable older peers – sometimes children feel comfortable confiding in someone just a few years older that they don’t with parents or other adults.
Sophie continues to miss her grandmother and I found the little moments of this so touching and realistic. It adds another layer of connection for those who are mourning a loved one. There’s a subtle subversion of “normal” gender roles which I found delightful. Sophie’s dad is not very good at most farming things, but he is learning. On the contrary, Lupe is a knowledgeable woodworker, and the women where they live are mostly very capable. These subtle touches are not necessarily noticeable to the target audience, but as a parent and former school librarian, I find them refreshing.
This series continues to delight, and I sincerely hope there will be more books of Sophie’s adventures. The ending left an opening for more to the story, and we would love to hear how Sophie’s business continues to run! Highly recommended.