Title: Chicken Lily
Author: Lori Mortensen
Illustrator: Nina Victor Crittenden
Target Ages: 2-8
Chicken Lily was a lot of things . . .
a careful colorer,
a patient puzzler,
and the quietest hide-and-seeker.
She never made a peep.
But Lily was also something else . . .
When Lily’s teacher, Mrs. Lop, plans a school-wide poetry jam, Lily is terrified. She doesn’t want to stand in front of everyone and sound like a birdbrain. With encouragement from her friends Baabette and Pigsley, Lily decides to hatch a plan.
When I was in high school, I was so afraid of public speaking that I took a “C” in my English class rather than give a speech. For some, a “C” may be no big deal. To me, it was a fate worse than death. I was just that terrified of public speaking. In my college speech class a few years later, everything changed. We had to memorize and to recite a poem. Being the overachiever I am, I practiced it until I had it perfect—words, tone, inflection, everything. My teacher was so pleased, he asked me to do it again when the dean came in to evaluate his class. Not only did that experience skyrocket my confidence as a public speaker (which is a good thing since I ended up a teacher), I felt it increased my confidence in other areas of my life too.
A similar scenario plays out in Chicken Lily. The protagonist, Lily, is a literal and figurative chicken. She is afraid to take chances, to speak up in class (even when she knows the answer), or, even, to try new foods. Paralyzed by all that could go wrong, she is missing out on memorable and beneficial experiences. When the teacher announces a poetry slam, Lily is certain she cannot write a poem or participate in the event.
Author Lori Mortensen flawlessly portrays the common childhood issues of fear and shyness through her adorable character, Lily. Mortensen depicts Lily in a multi-faceted way with positive qualities like being precise, patient, and skilled (at games). Like a sandwich, these qualities are highlighted effectively at beginning and ending the story. In the middle, these attributes help her ultimately to overcome her character weaknesses.
Artist Nina Crittenden uses soft watercolors to depict Lily and her animal friends. Each animated barnyard animal is appealing, especially to the target audience of preschoolers and primary grade children. The illustrations depict poetry and recitation in a positive manner in their facial expressions and body language.
The story is littered with puns, idioms, similes, and other fun word play with a “chicken” focus. For instance, instead of saying “turn up your nose,” she uses “turn up your beak.” “Shiver down the spine” is modified to say “shiver down her tail feathers.” Also, the usage of puns offers an opportunity to discuss multiple meaning words. For example, Lily “hatches a plan.” “Hatch” has a direct connection to a chicken breaking out of its egg. In this context, it means to devise a plan. (You could also discuss other non-related meanings like a type of door or a small hole between two rooms.)
Lily overcomes her fear and participates in the poetry slam. The story ends with her still being a "chicken," but “just not all the time.” The first inference is because she overcame her fear of public speaking. However, the final picture reveals that her new confidence carries over to other areas in her life: She is riding her bike confidently without training wheels.
Like many children, Lily lacks boldness and confidence. She models that by taking small steps, self-assurance can be built. I recommend Chicken Lily for your home or school library. It is sure to become a favorite, especially if you have a little "chicken" who needs a boost in confidence.
Activities and Extension Ideas for Lesson Plans:
- Literary Connections: Read about another famous chicken: Chicken Little. Compare and contrast the “chicken” characters in both stories.
- Character Education: Discuss the positive qualities Lily displays and how those attributes benefit her. Brainstorm other ways those qualities can help a person problem solve difficult situations.
- Poetry: Complete a poetry activity together. Memorize and recite a poem as a class or individually. Plan your own poetry slam for the class or family. Or, simply, read some poems together.
- Science: Read some non-fiction picture books about chickens. If possible, visit a farm or person with chickens to observe and interact with them. Talk about why a person who is afraid is called a “chicken.”
- Inference: Discuss what it means when it says that she is still a chicken, just not all the time.
- Language: Discuss idioms, similes, multiple meaning words, and puns. See lists below.
Word Play with Idioms
- Turned up her beak
- Shivers down her tail feathers
- Fell flat on her beak
- She laid an egg (out of fear)
- Felt like a rotten egg
- Broccoli like a tree
- Writing a poem is like putting a puzzle together
- Sound like a birdbrain
- Held up like a gem
- Never made a peep
- Acting like a chicken
- A birdbrain
- Lily brooded about it
- Hatched a plan
- Nearly molted
- Wants to fly the coop