Cheer Up, Chicken by Bob Hartman, with illustrations by Mike Spoor, is one of those wonderful books that is traditional, yet manages to fill a void in the current book market.
In this tale, we follow a chicken along a dubious path. First, he's given to Gregory, a wise old man who lives by himself in the forest, praying to God and tending his garden. In the vivid illustrations by Spoor, Gregory is dressed similarly to a monk. The chicken-giver thinks Gregory is thin and frail, and eating a chicken will do him some good. Gregory is touched by the generous gift.
But when dinner time comes, Gregory and the chicken study each other. The chicken hopes Gregory will feed him. Gregory thinks roast chicken sounds like a marvelous meal. But then Gregory remembers a friend who is sick. Surely, Gregory thinks, his friend needs the chicken more than he does. So Gregory tromps through the night, a frightened chicken in tow. "Cheer up, chicken!" Gregory says as they pass through a dark forest. "No harm will come to us."
The tinker is pleased with Gregory's gift, and when dinner time comes, he thinks chicken broth is just what he needs to get over his cold. But then the tinker remembers a little girl whose dog recently died. "The child is lonely," the tinker thinks. "Surely she could use this chicken more than me." When the tinker gives the little girl the chicken, she is delighted with her new pet. The chicken thinks she's finally going to settle into a nice home. But then the girl recalls a beggar woman she passed on the street earlier that day. "That woman has no food or friends," the girl thinks. "This chicken could keep her company and give her eggs every day."
The beggar woman is pleased; she considers trading the chicken at the market, but then remembers an old friend. "Perhaps he could use this chicken even more than me?" she wonders.
She carries the chicken on a long journey and gives her to none other than...Gregory! "I say it's time for your traveling to end," Gregory says. The chicken thinks she'll be Gregory's dinner. But Gregory says, "Cheer up, chicken! We shall spend what's left of our days together, scratching around in this tiny garden." Finally, the chicken has what she's always dreamed of: A quiet home.
The author concludes:
"And so it was that each one gave, each one received, and all were blessed. And no one more than the chicken!"
What I Like: This story reminds me of a traditional fairy tale - except it has a much better moral than your usual classic. I love that we get to see all sorts of truly needy people making sacrifices to give to others. In a day and age when giving used, unwanted toys to charity is considered a wonderful thing, this is a message we need to hear more of. Hartman's text is never preachy, and is often witty. Spoor's illustrations are delightful, with lots of detail and color.
What I Dislike: Nothing.
Overall Rating: Excellent.
Age Appeal: According to the publisher, 4 - 8, but my 2 year old likes it, also.
Publishing Info: Augsburg Fortress, 2002; ISBN: 0806643641; paperback, $9.99.
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