Nnedi Okorafor’s storytelling is solid by and large, with the giant chicken deserving of a special mention as a terrific device to carry forward the story. It makes an immediate impact and is highly memorable. (Who could forget a gorgeous giant chicken?!)
- Title: Chicken in the Kitchen
- Author: Nnedi Okorafor
- Illustrator: Mehrdokht Amini
- Reading level: 4-8 years
- Date published: September 1, 2017
- Publisher: Lantana Publishing
- Country: UK
- Country printed in: Hong Kong
- Eco-friendly printing: None specified
First, what you must know: UK-based Lantana Publishing is an independent publisher that produces culturally diverse picture books for children.
A book like this makes me wonder: How much would you bother to find out about the world of the book beyond its story pages? Because there’s nothing in these pages that will tell you it’s a festival of the Igbo in Nigeria, although the back cover will give you a bit of context. If you’re an adult reading this with a child, how much follow-up research would you do to put the book in better context to inform both your reading? Can the story stand on its own without extra-book context?
1. STORYTELLING CULTURAL SPECIFICITIES
Yes, the story by and large can stand on its own! A little girl finds a giant chicken in her kitchen and wants to get rid of it for fear it will spoil the food her family’s made for the New Yam Festival. Okorafor breaks down for us what the New Yam Festival is, and also does so for the other cultural specificities, which keeps the story within its own world.
However, explaining “real” world events and beliefs within a story narrative isn’t easy without sounding instructive or prosaic. As exciting as this book is, one paragraph stood out like a sore thumb, unfortunately. It was the one explaining the masquerades (and it really is explaining), which wasn’t woven into the storytelling quite as fluidly as the writing about the New Yam Festival and wood spirit. My first reading of it, I thought the masquerades paragraph read like a tourist brochure.
2. GORGEOUS GIANT CHICKEN
The illustrations really resonated with the story. Amini’s giant chicken is gorgeous, and she knows it: she uses the same colours and textures for another animal in another book she later worked on with the same publisher. The colours are bold throughout the book and they become almost giddying with energy towards the end when we see the masquerades.
Note: This review has been edited after its first publication on Aug 4, 2018 on the Instagram @emmyloveschildrensbooks