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Strange birds and a brave young girl

If you think raising poultry is a tame hobby, think again.

"Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer," by Kelly Jones, is the story of 12-year-old Sophie, who moves from Los Angeles to her great-uncle Jim's farm in rural California.

Even though great-uncle Jim has died, his chickens are still in the area. One by one, they begin to return to the farm. But they aren't normal chickens.

Henrietta (a Bantam White Leghorn chicken) seems perpetually mad—and can move a water jar just by staring at it. Chameleon (a Barred Plymouth Rock) can disappear. And Buffy ... well, let's just say that you don't want to meet her chicks.

To make matters more interesting, Sophie must keep them out of the hands of Sue, the 4-H leader who is trying to steal them.

Meanwhile, Sophie must also learn to take care of her chickens. Here's where author Kelly Jones introduces the nonfiction element of the story.

Through an instruction manual (mailed by a mysterious woman named Agnes), Sophie learns details about chicken diet, physiology, housing and much more.

Jones also brings other unique elements to the book. For example, it's written in a "Dear Diary" format. But instead of a diary, Sophie writes letters to her deceased abuelita (grandmother) and to her great-uncle Jim, even though she knows that they cannot answer.

Jones, a former bookseller and librarian, also brings other chicken titles into the book, including "The Hoboken Chicken Emergency," as well as echoes of "Click Clack Moo: Cows That Type."

Meanwhile, Katie Kath's cartoon illustrations add essential elements of poultry expression. However, she also uses her illustrations to preview the bizarre events of each chapter.

Conservative readers might be uncomfortable with a small reference to a minor character's girlfriend at the end of the book. But overall, this is a wonderful story about Sophie—a brave girl who protects the heritage that is uniquely her own.

"Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer." By Kelly Jones. Illustrated by Katie Kath. Knopf, 2015. 224 pp.

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