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Animal Theme/Character, Early/Young Readers, Humor, Mystery/Adventure, Read-Aloud Suggestions

THE CHICKEN SQUAD: The First Misadventure by Doreen Cronin Illustrated by Kevin Cornwell

the chicken squadDelightfully slapstick in nature The Chicken Squad builds on the tiny, comical characters who first appear in The Trouble with Chickens, the original J.J. Tully mystery.  A perfect graduation from her brilliant picture books, these short, easy chapter books by Doreen Cronin (of Click, Clack, Moo fame) provide an ideal bridge for young readers.

J.J. Tully, the retired police dog from Trouble with Chickens introduces the story and makes a short–but pivotal–appearance in the climax of the Chicken Squad plot.  The majority of the story surrounds Moosh the Chicken’s four offspring (Dirt, Sugar, Poppy & Sweetie) as they mobilize to help Tail the Squirrel when he sees “something big and scary in the yard.”

UFOs, a squirrel who repeatedly insists he is brave but continuously faints from fear, chicks licking each other and rolling in grass clippings for camouflage and tons of silly, clever dialogue will have young readers (and those of us who read it to them) giggling like crazy.  With absurdly witty exchanges like:

“Dirt, you take the helium and stick with Tail.  He’s going to show you where the UFO landed.  Send up the balloon when you get there.  That’s our target everyone!”

[…]

“Wait,” said the squirrel.  “Wouldn’t it be easier to just blow up the balloon here instead of dragging a helium tank all the way across the yard?”

Sugar let out a heavy sigh.

“You can’t camouflage yourself and then walk around with a giant, orange balloon!” snapped Sugar.  “Think, squirrel, think!”

“Wow,” said the squirrel.  “You guys are good.”

The Chicken Squad will be a HUGE winner as a read-aloud or independent reading choice in a classroom or at home.

Kevin Cornwell’s illustrations are just as wonderfully quirky as the Chicken Squad, themselves.  Although the illustration are in black-and-white they are presented with an incredible depth of gray shades, making them as vibrant as the best color panels in picture books.  Combined with the engaging text Cornwell’s work only enhances the transitional aspect The Chicken Squad offers young and growing readers!

On a teaching note for home or classroom:  When Tail tries to describe what he has seen to the Chicken Squad he says only that it is “big and scary.”  Dirt and Sugar have an ongoing exchange with him, building from chapter to chapter to help him find more specific, detailed ways to describe what he has seen.  This is a great springboard for lessons/discussions on adjectives and writing for older (3rd grade) readers/writers and as a language experience in 1st and 2nd grade.

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