Though I love to celebrate my friends’ new books no matter where they live, it’s eggs-tra special fun to celebrate the folks who live in my neck of the woods, like Kelly Jones! Her newest book, Are You Ready To Hatch an Unusual Chicken (Yearling), is the much anticipated sequel to the utterly charming Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer. Even if you are not a fan of backyard chickens, you will be a huge fan of Kelly’s books.
Ever since the first wave of young readers picked up Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer (Yearling), they’ve wanted to discuss those chickens’ superpowers. We talk about how the ordinary chickens who live in my backyard inspired the unusual chickens in my books: how a bossy, pushy chicken inspired Henrietta’s telekinesis, a scared Barred Rock hiding under a bush inspired Chameleon, and the fierce pursuit of a tasty slug inspired Roadrunner’s superspeed.
When they found out a sequel was coming, kids thought up chickens who could shoot laserbeams out of their eyes, or were bulletproof, or had superstrength, or could read minds. Chickens who could heal papercuts, create jars with an endless supply of slugs, were NASCAR drivers, or protected the world from alien invaders.
I tell them about my real-life hen who inspired a new kind of chicken for the sequel, Are You Ready to Hatch an Unusual Chicken (Knopf Books for Young Readers)? See, my backyard is divided by a fence. One side has the garden. The other side has the chickens. But every single time I turn my back, this one hen… I trail off. Their eyes light up. The air fills with stories waiting to be written. Chickens who can fly, or jump super-high, or open portals to other dimensions, or open gates, or phase through walls (and fences), or scale mountains (and fences)… (You’ll have to read it to find out what I came up with.)
You know what never comes up? Superpower suggestions for Sophie, the girl who takes care of these chickens.
Yes, those chickens are unusual. But it’s Sophie who’s exceptional. Sophie, who is smart, and thoughtful, and responsible, and tries her hardest. Sophie, who has no superpowers at all.
Now, I love superpowers. I love magic. I love when “what if” takes off and changes everything. When an impossible-in-our-world situation pushes a character beyond anything they’ve experienced, and they try to solve it anyway, using everything they’ve got, I cheer them on.
But young people in our world face difficult new experiences all the time. They know they can’t rely on superpowers or a magic wand to solve those new challenges, to get through the tough parts.
Why don’t kids suggest abilities that could make Sophie’s life easier? Why doesn’t she ever wish that she had a superpower too?
Maybe they recognize that she already has everything she needs.
As I returned to her world, I watched how she solves her challenges, and the ways her superhero team – her family, friends, and community – help her, using their own real-world abilities and strengths. And as Sophie’s story continues, she recognizes those superpowers too: being brave, never giving up, getting everybody organized, learning to do something new, and figuring out how everybody can have fun.
I love that the unusual chickens inspire young readers’ imaginations. But I hope readers discover their own superpowers too. I hope whenever they face a challenge, they remember their strengths and use them to tackle the problems they face. Just like Sophie.
Kelly Jones has worked as a librarian and a bookseller, and now tells stories as well as sharing them. Her first book, Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer (Yearling), was an Indies Introduce Pick, an ALA Notable Book, an SLJ Best Book, and a Kirkus Reviews Best Book. You can find her at her website or on Twitter and Instagram.