Review: Starla Jean by Elana K. Arnold

by Crystal Sands

Whoever said “You can’t judge a book by its cover” just didn’t know children’s literature. For a children’s book to be appealing to children, it needs to have a great cover. Starla Jean subtitled Which Came First: The Chicken or the Friendship? delivers a fantastic cover to go with a fun, heartwarming story about a little girl, Starla Jean, who catches a chicken (no small feat) and gets to keep it.

When I saw the cover illustration for this book with a little girl hugging a chicken just a little too hard, I immediately thought, “This is a book for me.”

There are some things I love deeply in this world–my family, teaching writing, farming with my husband, my chickens–and children’s books. I minored in Children’s Literature for my PhD and have been writing children’s books in my head since I was ten years old.

I also teach children’s literature, so I was pretty excited when I learned that the brilliant Elana K. Arnold had written a children’s book about chickens. This book is really as good as you hope it will be–and then some. The story is so much fun, and A.N. Kang’s illustrations fit the story perfectly.

As a chicken keeper and researcher, I have a hard time reading books about chickens. I am always on the lookout for misinformation. There is A LOT of misinformation about chickens that circulates in our culture. It’s a disservice to the animals, and I feel passionately about this. I am quite picky when it comes to a book about chickens.

Starla Jean held up to my chicken-researcher scrutiny. Before Starla Jean catches her chicken, she lists four things she knows for sure about chickens. After actually spending some time with her newly-found chicken, Opal Egg, Starla Jean learns that two of the four things she knew for sure about chickens were not true.

One important lesson Starla Jean learns is that chickens are “plenty smart,” and this is important. Too many people are under the impression that chickens are not intelligent animals. Research tells us otherwise. My experience tells me otherwise. Chickens are highly social and intelligent animals with the ability to reason and even make logical inferences. I am happy for children to get to know this truth.

Before I could write a review of this book, I wanted my little boy to read it. He is a big fan of Elana K. Arnold’s A Boy Called Bat, but he is not a chicken person like his mama. He likes chickens well enough, but they do not strike his fancy quite the way some other things do.

To write this review well, however, I needed to get his child-perspective, expert opinion. He’s a big reader. So I was planning to ask him to read the book quickly before I had to write the review. I was in a bit of a time crunch, and I was just about to ask him to read the book. With the book in my hand, my son saw the cover, and before I could ask him to read it, he said, “Hey, can I read that?”

I’m telling you that cover is appealing.

He loved the book. He’s eleven and is a very picky reader. He knows and demands good writing. He read through this early-reader book pretty quickly and announced “It’s awesome!”

And it is awesome. Although Starla Jean is an early-reader book, I think children of all ages will love it. And, if you are an adult who is a child at heart, this book is just a joy.

There was just one concern I had about the story. At the end of the book, the plan is to keep Opal Egg in a coop in the yard, and there is no mention of another chicken. Of course, chickens are social animals and generally not should be alone in a coop, but I am guessing there is more to this story.

The second book is coming. I think Arnold should do a whole series on Opal Egg, and in the series, Opal Egg definitely needs to get a friend.

I have a rule for Farmer-ish. I will only review books I love. I want to share the good stuff with as many people as I can. Get Starla Jean for your children. Get it for yourself. If you are an adult who likes picture books, this is a win-win. And if you also like chickens, too, this book is going to make your day. I read it with my morning tea, chicken mug in hand, and it helped me start my day with a big smile.

And if you find yourself reading this review before January 23, 2021, please check out this online book launch party for Starla Jean, hosted by my local bookstore, The Briar Patch here in Maine, as well as The River Dog Book Company in Wisconsin. I will be there. A few of my chickens will be there, so you can get a chance to meet Kate, Juliet, and Broody Hen.

I am going to get to teach children about chickens!!! I think it’s safe to say that I am Starla Jean-level excited about this.

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