Authors: Joy Cowley
With illustrations by David Elliot
Patricia Lee Gauch, Editor
A division of Penguin Young Readers Group.
Published by The Penguin Group.
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Text copyright © 2008 by Joy Cowley. Illustrations copyright © 2008 by David Elliot. All rights reserved. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the publisher, Philomel Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, 345 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014. Philomel Books, Reg. U.S. Pat. & Tm. Off. The scanning, uploading and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
Published simultaneously in Canada.
Printed in the United States of America.
Design by Semadar Megged. Text set in 13.5 point Kennerly.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Cowley, Joy. Chicken feathers / Joy Cowley ; with illustrations by David Elliot.
p. cm. Summary: Relates the story of the summer Josh spends while his mother is in the hospital awaiting the birth of his baby sister, and his pet chicken Semolina, who talks but only to him, is almost killed by a red fox. [1. Chickens—Fiction. 2. Pets—Fiction. 3. Farm life—Fiction. 4. Family life—Fiction.] I. Elliot, David, 1952– ill. II. Title.
PZ7.C8375Ch 2008 [Fic]—dc22 2007038635
10 9 8 7 6 5
HIS BOOK IS DEDICATED TO
, a gifted storyteller who has brought the magic of story to thousands of children. May she long continue to inspire the child in all of us.
The book is also for Tori, granddaughter of Dr. Maryann Manning. Tori was born while I was writing chapter nine, and she naturally found her place in the story.
Last but not least, it is for those marvelous birds who have invaded my life. There was Colonel Sanders, an old blind rooster who walked sideways toward me, guided by my voice, until he was leaning against my legs. When I picked him up and stroked his glossy black feathers, he cooed like a dove. There was Lily, a bantam hen who inhabited my studio. She laid her small eggs in the correspondence tray on my desk and interrupted my writing with triumphant egg songs. Beatrice the goose was devoted to us until she transferred her affections to an old woolly sheep. Ruby, a white Orpington hen, used to wait at the gate, rain or shine, for my return from town.
Pets may have a short life, but the love and wisdom they give us lasts an entire human span.
Table of Contents
were serious about life. Maybe it was something to do with living on a farm with three thousand chickens, or maybe it was because their hearts were as soft as the new-laid eggs they took to market. Whatever, their son, Joshua, had a fair dose of that seriousness. When he did tell a joke, it was the kind that made folk groan and hold their stomachs as though they’d
swallowed ice cubes. Josh worried about things, not big things like earthquakes and tsunamis, but the little wrinkles in each day—how best to fix the lawn mower and who was doing the shopping for old Mrs. Waters, who broke her ankle falling off the horse she wasn’t supposed to be riding. People said the Miller boy had a touch of softness to him—which is how Semolina came to be his pet.
Semolina was no ordinary chicken. She may have looked like any old hen, legs scaly with age, ragged tail feathers, comb pale and small, body on the plump side from sitting on the table beside Josh’s plate. But it wasn’t eating corn bread that made her unique. Fact was, Semolina could talk, really talk, and it started soon after the day Tucker Miller came up the path with the hen tucked under his arm.
“She’s a character, this one,” Tucker said to his son. “Too old to lay, fights with the other chickens. But I guess I don’t have the heart to do the dirty. Josh, you’re hankering for a pet. You want her?”
Josh, who was thinking along the lines of a puppy, nodded and carefully took the bird, who had the good sense not to peck his hand. Of course he knew Semolina. Who didn’t?
If there were feathers flying in the barn, it was Semolina causing chaos. Chickens couldn’t get to the drinking water because the old girl was there first, guarding it. Couldn’t get heads down at the food trough, either—Semolina walked behind them, pulling out tail feathers. She was trouble with a capital
and smart with it.
He lined an old wash basket with a blanket and set it on the front porch for her, but since his bedroom window
opened to the porch, it took no more than an hour or two for Semolina to decide that the head of Josh’s iron bed was the best place to perch.
As for the talking, that began with a word here or there. “Josh,” she’d cluck. “Josh, Josh. Josh.” Then, “Food. Window. Hurry.” Before long, she was chattering away like a picnic of parrots and then some. But the embarrassing thing was she’d only speak to Josh.
“She does so talk!” he told his parents. “Listen to this! Semolina, say it’s a sunny day.”
Semolina put her head on one side and stared with a blank yellow eye. “Caw-awk! Caw-awk!”
“Sunny day, Semolina! Sunny day!”
Tucker and Elizabeth smiled at each other, and Elizabeth kissed Josh on the top of his head the way she did when he was three years old. “Of course she talks,” she said. “Sweet chicken talk.”
The most serious matter in the Miller family concerned a sister or brother for Josh. Elizabeth Miller, nearly six months pregnant, ended up in the hospital on a Friday morning due
to something the doctor called complications. There was a danger she could lose the baby.
“What’s wrong?” Josh asked.
Tucker pushed back his cap and scratched his head. “Blessed if I know. Your mom and I are not good layers, and that’s the truth of it. We thought we’d be right this time.”
Josh tried not to think about it. When he was six, he had sorted out his toys for a new baby that didn’t come. “Lost it,” people whispered, as though his mother had somehow forgotten where she’d put the baby. He never did play with those toys again. This time he wouldn’t hope too much, so when disappointment came, he could tell himself it was what he expected.
If the baby wasn’t complication enough, Saturday afternoon Semolina flew through Josh’s window, landed beside his model yacht and demanded Grandma’s brew from the cupboard in the laundry. The old hen had a wicked thirst for the brown water, as she called it. No one else liked the stuff. Grandma made it with hops and yeast in a big old tub at the back of her house, and Tucker reckoned it tasted as though she’d washed the socks of a baseball team in it. Grandma kept
giving it to Tucker. He stowed it in the cupboard behind the laundry powder and mousetraps, and there it stood, an army of large brown bottles with dusty shoulders and crown caps.
Saturday wasn’t the first time Josh had gotten brew for Semolina. But it was the first time Tucker noticed that a bottle had been opened.
Josh felt bad. He wished his dad would get fired up like other fathers. He dang well hated the way Tucker looked at him soft-eyed as though he was going to cry.
“Dad?” he said. “I only took it for…”
But Tucker turned away without saying a word.
Josh wanted to explain. He’d given Grandma’s brew to Semolina, fair trade for information about the missing eggs in the number-three henhouse. He wanted his father to believe that Semolina could really, truly, without-a-doubt talk.