Free Friday: When the Chickens went on Strike

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When the Chickens went on Strike, written by Erica Silverman, and illustrated by Matthew Trueman

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When I saw the cover of this book, and saw that this was adapted from a story by Sholom Aleichem, I grabbed it immediately.  That’s the guy who wrote Fiddler on the Roof! I thought, excited to read another story situated in between Russian and Jewish culture.

The story follows one boy as he learns of the chickens refusing to take part in a traditional Rosh Hashana tradition.  The Jewish tradition of Kapores involves holding live chickens above people’s heads and saying prayers, which is part of the Rosh Hashana festivities celebrating the New Year.  The boy begins as an unruly, immature character who just yearns to make his family proud of him, a typical example of a boy ready to become a man.  He finds out that the chickens are refusing to take part in this festivity, and they go on strike.  The boy is distraught; he was counting on Kapores as a way to prove to his father that he was worthy of pride.  He then races back to tell his family of this, but they are not listening.  Eventually, when the villagers realize their chickens and fowl aren’t there, they begin asking questions and frantically searching their town.  The boy soon shows the people where the chickens are, and then takes them there as they begin negotiating the chicken’s terms in their rituals.  Eventually, the chickens resort to running away, but not after the boy intercedes on their behalf.  He then comments on the fact that life continued on, and that customs come and go.

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While the story is rather straight forward, I really love the way the story is written.  The author’s words really reflect the insecurities of a preteen boy, and the topics of customs, ritual, and faith also are interwoven throughout the story.  One of my favorite lines reads, “Reb Fishel wagged a finger at them. ‘This is a revolution.  You chickens want to turn the whole world upside down!’

‘We just want our rights!’ A chicken cried out”

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This, to me, seems like a dialogue all too familiar.  It shows the lack of understanding that the powerful party has towards a minority, towards those who have often been misunderstood or underrepresented.

The illustrations in this book are also engaging and appropriate for children of all ages, which lends to this universal nature of the story that it is telling.  The colors of the Russian countryside also are a major focus in the illustrations, and the way the pages are framed also lends well to this almost mythicized story.

Overall, I think this is a special book that tells a story situated in a specific historical and cultural context, but that has universal appeal, with the themes of growing up, listening and standing up for others, and discovering the true value and meaning of your customs.

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Post by Hannah Baughn

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