A preachy but otherwise engaging debut tale of chicks rescued from a precarious existence by a kindly couple.
Six chicks of various breeds and personalities trade an uncertain future as sale items at a feed store for a cozy life in the country under the loving care of a tender-hearted, animal-loving human and her like-minded husband. As the chicks gain their glossy feathers and reach egg-laying maturity, they adjust to life with one another and with gentle horses, chattering squirrels, the threat of predators, helpful and ignorant humans, and one strange, lonely, tree-dwelling cousin fowl who imparts her survivor’s wisdom. The narrator of the tale and its keen, acerbic observer is Blondos the Magnificent, a bird of fine English pedigree, supreme self-regard and wild frames of reference: Hoping her new owners give her a worthy name, Blondos says, “I happened to know people spend hard-earned money to change their names if they didn’t like them.” Describing attractive, polka-dotted but not too bright fellow chickens, Blondos compares them to “beautiful women” who are “incredibly stunning until they open their mouths and sound like New York taxi cab drivers.” The author uses her vivid characters and situations as teaching moments, delivered primarily through the voice of the chickens’ compassionate human mistress. VanderBeek’s narrative addresses the responsibilities of pet owners; the irresponsibility of giving baby chicks, ducks and rabbits as holiday gifts; pet neglect, abandonment and abuse, and even the misguided militant tactics of some animal activists. For the most part, however, the author’s worthy soapbox approach doesn’t lose sight of the chicken friends for too long, returning with warmth and humor to their eventful lives and dialogue. As the feathery friends experience happy times and small crises, they learn their own lessons of acceptance and compassion—particularly prideful, selfish Blondos—and their story becomes a framework for the author’s impassioned appeal for the caring and respectful treatment of animals.
Although at times this tale too earnestly inveighs against animal cruelty and neglect, its warmth and spiky humor shine through.