City Chicken


Arthur Dorros

Just out in 2003, Arthur Dorros has written a marvelous book about his family's chicken. This may sound like an unlikely topic for a favorite children's book, but this story has joined the ranks of my very best read-alouds! You may know Arthur Dorros for his award winning non-fiction piece, Ant Cities. You can check out his author's page at .

Now, why was this book an instant favorite? Many reasons! Initially, I snagged it off the Borders' bookshelf because of visions I had of terrific schema lessons. The chicken in question, Henry (short for Henrietta), lives in a small coop in a city backyard. A neighborhood cat describes farm animals to her. Henry Cole, the illustrator, does a wonderful job of showing us the mental pictures Henry makes from these descriptions. Perfect examples of using one's schema to understand the world!

In the next part of the book, Henry decides she needs to see the country and takes a wonderful trip to find a farm. On the farm, we again see how Henry's schema influences what she thinks about the farm animals she sees. I don't want to spoil the book for your own first reading, so I won't describe more than that.

As I re-read the book, I noticed other possibilities for writing lessons. The voice in the book is terrific! The cat and the chicken are very individual, as are other incidental characters. The story, combined with the pictures, has hilarious moments. I loved getting inside the mind of this chicken!

Since I've continued to re-read the book, I've found more and more reasons to use it. The word choice is terrific. There are idioms which we commonly use, and they take on whole new meanings in this story. Or, more accurately, they take us back to the original meanings! This book is a wonderful example of when it becomes creative to use well-worn phrases and clichés. A humorous moment in the story depends on multiple meanings of the word duck.

For those who are trying to encourage students to use something besides the tired old "said" in speaker tags, the book is a treasure! The word choices which reflect how the characters speak are carefully interspersed with said and asked to create very enjoyable dialog. In addition, the use of said and asked, where repeated, is for a purpose.

Yes, there are more traits you can teach using City Chicken! The organization of the story is not intrusive, but I believe even young listeners could help you find the structure. The sequence, transitions, details and pacing make the organization easy to follow.

In addition to story mapping, City Chicken would be a terrific story for geographical mapping with young children. (Refer to the lesson plan for the story Lost! By David McPhail, linked at the bottom of this page.)

In case you haven't realized it, I love this book! I hope someone makes it into a big book. I want to be able to share the story in giant size, and then we could study all the conventions with the book, too!

Some final thoughts about City Chicken. It has plenty of possibilities for sparking writing, as well as for thinking about the traits of writing, and the concept of schema as it relates to reading material. Here are some thoughts I had:

    1. Students could individually choose farm animals not mentioned in the story and draw the picture that might be in Henry's head.
    2. Students could work in small groups to create further adventures on the farm.
    3. Students could work in pairs or small groups to write other adventures the chicken from the city might have. What if she went to the zoo, or a big oceanography aquarium like Scripps?
    4. What might she imagine if someone described a manufacturing plant, such as an automobile plant, a cotton gin, a canning factory, or something near you?
    5. Could this story provide a model or pattern for writing a class story about another animal's adventures with the unknown?
    6. How about point of view? In the story, the ant says about the garbage truck. "And they serve great meals on board!" What else might the ant think? What might the country chickens think of Henry?
    7. Could you challenge your older students to write a story using 3 clichés (or more) in a creative way? Or how about researching and writing about some clichés?
    8. Are new clichés and slang being created today? Could the class create "new" clichés? Hmmm. Reminds me of Andrew Clements' story, Frindle!

However you decide to use this book, I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!


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