Before I even start this review I feel obligated to admit that I am biased: I don’t like chickens. I wasn’t looking forward to reading this particular book. I will also admit that my dislike of actual chickens faded to the background as I read Judy Cox’s The Secret Chicken Society.
It begins with Daniel, a student in Mrs. Lopez’s 3rd Grade class. Daniel is an animal lover and already has a pet gerbil, a rat and a parakeet. When Mrs. Lopez reveals to the class that not only will they be hatching chicks, the students are able to give the chicks permanent homes provided they bring $2 and a note from their parents saying it’s all right.
The Secret Chicken Society is created by Daniel and his brother and sisters as a way to protect the chickens they inherit from the classroom–which ends up to be much more than they bargained for. The author does a great job of weaving interesting nonfiction facts about chickens into a simply, but tightly and clearly, plotted storyline. Daniel, his brother and sisters and his parents are completely believable characters who speak and act genuinely in each situation. The addition of Daniel’s neighbors–both Mr. & Mrs. Grafalo and Miss Clay and her poodles–is a perfectly positioned plot addition.
Along with the real-life information about how to hatch eggs, care for the chicks and the chickens they become Ms. Cox has built in the real challenges of keeping chickens in a backyard–the smell, the cleaning and the noise. The Secret Chicken Society has the traditional structure of: (1) boy wants special pet; (2) boy gets special pet; (3) boy loses, or almost loses pet; and (4) boy finds solution. She hits each of these elements in a way that makes sense and is entertaining. The chicken escape scenes in particular are extremely well done–vivid and action-packed and chuckle-worthy.
The plot, language and sentence structure are perfect for the younger end of the Lovelace Division I readers. Young or beginning readers transitioning to a higher complexity in story structure will thoroughly enjoy Daniel’s experiences. The Secret Chicken Society is a perfect independent or read-aloud choice for ages 5-8.