On Urban Chickens & Chicken Literature

Egg and I Betty Macdonald RO60065818Raising chickens is legal in our city.

There is even a Backyard Chicken group.

Urban chickens used to be prohibited, a chore undertaken only by down-and-out hillbillies or extreme practitioners of sustainable living.  Ten years ago, we were astonished when we bicycled past a run-down house with a dozen chickens in the front yard.  They also had a disheveled pony.

It has always been a dream of mine:  living in the country, with my flock of chickens and a pony named Midnight, like the one my grandparents used to have.  But I’m a a city girl, and I am not quite sure I could get up early enough to care for demanding animals.

But urban chickens are fashionable, and you see them all over these days.   They run free and you get organic eggs! Anybody can raise an urban chicken!

So here is a list of  chicken lit, or do I mean Chicken Little?

Egg and I MacDonald in print 51lBQkMoFqL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_1. Betty MacDonald’s The Egg and I (1945), the best-selling humorous memoir of MacDonald’s experiences as a young wife on a chicken farm in the Pacific Northwest.  Raising chickens is hard work, and also hilarious.  She wrote,

Gathering eggs would be like one continual Ester morning if the hens would just be obliging and get off the nests. Ccooperation, however, is not a chickenly characteristic and so at egg-gathering time every nest was overflowing with hen, feet planted, and a shout-if-you-must-this-old-grayhead look in her eye.  I made all manner of futile attempts to dislodge her–sharp sticks, flapping apron, loud scary noises, lure of mash and grain–but she would merely set her mouth, clutch her eggs under her and dare me.  In a way, I can’t blame the hen–after all, soft-shelled or not, they’re her kids.

2. Chanticleer and the Fox, adapted from the Canterbury Tales and illustrated by Barbara Cooney, who won the Caldecott Medal. My aunt gave me this book when I was perhaps a little old for it, but I loved the illustrations.

Barbara Cooney 1959_Chanticleer_and_the_Fox3.The Book of the Dun Cow by Walter Wangerin, Jr., won the American Book Award in 1978.  This adult fantasy novel is another retelling of the Chaunticleer and the Fox from Chaucer’s “the Nun’s Priest’s Tale.”  Wangerin is an outstanding writer, and one of these days I’ll post more about this novel.  I am very fond of the character, Chaunticleer, who has a big flock of chickens to take care of and does a lot of crowing in all moods.  It’s his job.

Chaunticleer the Rooster crowed when he was angry to be sure.  Upset, or out of humor, he could crow the fear of God into a wood tick or into nearly anything else, for that matter.  But no one must get the idea that this was the only time when he crowed, and the only kind of crow he knew.  Crowing was his profession.

book of the dun cow 1cow3004. Chicken Little.  Everybody knows this story about a chicken who thinks the sky is falling.  I adored this as a child!

chicken_little_book_cover5. You can read Sherwood Anderson’s short story, “The Egg,” in The Egg and Other Stories (Dover) or at http://www.online-literature.com/sherwood-anderson/1468/

The Egg Sherwood Anderson 51hJo6GYDOL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_6. Jack Prelutsky’s “Last Night I Dreamed of Chickens”( 1940)  is a famous  poem:  https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/last-night-i-dreamed-chickens

7.  Mother Carey’s Chickens is a 1911 novel by Kate Douglas Wiggin, the author of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.  It is the story of  a widow struggling to raise her two daughters and son.

/Mother Carey's Chickens 516aiAB7Y6L._SX319_BO1,204,203,200_In the introduction Laura Ingalls Wilder’s annotated autobiography, Pioneer Girl,  it is revealed that she  used to raise chickens and was a poultry columnist before she wrote the Little House books.  Find out more at this website:  http://pioneergirlproject.org/2015/05/21/wilders-chickens/

Wilder Pioneer Girl the annotated authobiograhpy910DQmHfPELDo share your chicken literature!  I’m sure I’ve missed some titles!

15 thoughts on “On Urban Chickens & Chicken Literature

  1. You can add The Little Red Hen, which I was required to read over and over again to my granddaughter when she was about four. That blasted chicken was a noble volunteer. When no one else would plant the wheat, gather the grain, grind the flour or bake the bread, this obliging hen took on all the work. “She was a helper,” as my granddaughter said. Also irritating, somehow.

  2. I discovered lately that I read “Mother Carey’s Chickens” when I was a child. I had it in French and it was called “Les Locataires de la Maison Jaune”. It was an abridged version. I just loved it and read it times and times again. There was Cousin Julia who was adopted by “Mother Carey” in spite of the family poverty, and she was such a snob!. Of course she had to learn the virtues of the family: it was some kind of “Little Women” book with the same character of mother as Marmee. But I was very distraught by the fact that Julia was said to eat only the choicest pieces of chicken and in gold. I felt guilty of liking the same pieces but could not understand why I never saw them in gold and how I would eat them anyway. Children are odd and wonder a lot! Children literature is still my comfort read. Silly,isn’t it?
    Mother gave me an old copy of “The Egg and I” later. It must be somewhere on the shelves. I laughed and my fear of hens increased!
    Chanticleer exists as Chanteclerc in France in various medieval stories, including “Le Roman de Renard”.

    • Amazing that Mother Carey’s Chickens made it into French! Chickens can be a bit much: I’m not surprised you’re scared of them. I wonder if chickens are as popular in modern lit as they were in medieval.

  3. And what about ‘Rosie’s Walk’? And if you don’t know ‘Rosie’s Walk’ shame on you. Please don’t tell me it hasn’t crossed the Atlantic.
    My grandfather kept chickens and used to get up at 4.30am to look after them. Mind you, the fact that by the time I knew him he and my grandmother were scarcely on speaking terms might have had something to do with that. When she wanted him for anything she used to hang out of an upstairs window and ring an old school bell.

    • I’ve never heard of Rosie’s Walk, but it looks charming!
      Yes, the getting up early sounds most unattractive. One of my grandmothers was “good with chickens.” I never quite knew what it meant, but I believe she sold eggs for pin money.

  4. The first book my daughter was able to read on her own: Janet Morgan Stoeke’s Minerva Louise (1988) — with, by now, several sequels. Also Meindert DeJong’s Along Came a Dog, about a friendship between a hen and a stray dog.

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