There are baby chickens in my living room. I can hear them over there by the book case in their green plastic tote condominium, chit-chatting with each other, scritch-scratching around and pooping freely on their carpet of pine shavings. When they are old enough to leave the constant attention of the heating lamp they’ll be moved into the ancient corn-crib-turned-coop that my daughters and I have been renovating here at the farm. But until “Cluckingham Palace” is ready, Queens Mary (as in Bloody), Elizabeth (Lizza) and Victoria (Vicky the Chicky) are our royal guests.
In our 930 square foot home, the addition of chicks to the family is a significant one. So why commit to a period of time in which we must mess around with feathers, shavings, squawks, and constant cleaning? Believe me, it’s not all about the eggs.
As any parent, teacher, home-educator or animal lover will tell you, it’s about the experience. It’s watching your daughter hold a trembling, peeping, splay-legged fluff ball against her chest and sooth it instantly to sleep. It’s knowing that she’ll always remember the smell of the pine shavings, the spiny poke of new feathers, the singular grip of a Wyandotte’s claw. It’s my daughters’ satisfaction in offering cool, clean water and fresh bedding to these little chirping, growing things, and the awareness of being entirely in charge of their well-being. In each of these small ways, Katie and Claire are laying down sensory memories that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. In addition, the myriad of poultry allusions which populate our English language will be laden with meaning for them. “Ruling the roost,” “pecking order,” and all that business about counting eggs and chickens, will connect to real-life truth.
It’s for all these reasons and more that Jenny and I are always looking for clever, interesting ways to bring books to life for kids. What they smell and taste and touch, they’ll remember. What they wonder and laugh and write about, they’ll feel connected to. And when they hear a Shakespearean phrase or an allusion to Dickens . . . or when a beloved author such as Ray Bradbury passes on, they’ll “get it,” and they’ll grieve, as a person who truly understands.