I had some second thoughts about the book for the 2016 Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Award. In the story line of Sonya’s Chickens, written and illustrated by Phoebe Wahl, Sonya adopts three chicks and cares for them like a mother until they grow into fluffy hens. One night she hears squawking in the henhouse. When she goes to check, she discovers feathers all over the floor, but only two of her three chickens. My first reaction was protective against Phoebe’s very realistic telling small children about what happens when a fox finds a way into the henhouse.
Then I thought about my own experience last summer when I had become enamored of the Gulf Fritillary butterflies hatching on my maypop vines. I found an anole in the act of eating one of my butterflies. As if he knew he had been caught, he took his protective coloration right into the vines. It took me a bit to consider the law of nature that allows for the food chain and know the anole was hungry, too.
Fortunately, Sonya’s father helps her come to the same conclusion and repair her damaged coop so it will be safe for the remaining hens. Her family joins her in honoring and mourning her lost hen while remaining glad that little foxes were fed.
So should we protect children from the nature’s law of the food chain? I think not. I’d rather believe that even very small children can understand Sonya’s mixed feelings (and mine) when we mourn a hen (or butterfly) but are glad that the little foxes and anoles have a good meal. One doesn’t have to live very long to have experiences that bring simultaneous joy and sorrow. Nor does one need a long life to know that “happily ever after” is only a fairy tale.
Besides, I wouldn’t want the small children in my life to miss this lesson in science and life, disguised inside a beautifully written story.