Petunia is not like the other chickens. She prefers colour and beauty to squabbles over bugs and jostling for place in the pecking order. She keeps herself as separate as she can be while sharing the same coop as the rest of the flock.
Unable to hide her different interests and values, Petunia becomes a target of the other, bigger, birds. As she moves further and further from the norms of chicken society, the dangers she faces increase as quickly as her horizons.
I do not generally care for book trailers – the whole concept seems a little misguided – but you should absolutely watch this one. It was created by the author & illustrator (a married couple), and it’s so great. There’s a wonderful WWI France vibe, but with chickens.
This is the first part of a larger narrative, rather than a standalone novel in a series. That means no neatly wrapped-up narrative – most of this is establishing character, setting the scene, and laying the groundwork for conflicts/drives that will figure in later parts. It’s a short book and a quick read.
Talking animals tends to mean a book is targeted at young children, but this is one of the exceptions – it’s got deeper themes and broader appeal. I think the closest parallel is Charlotte’s Web; the concept might seem slight but it goes in interesting directions.
This is a book in which humans feature, and the animals can understand them, but not the other way around. That may seem like an odd detail to highlight, but it’s a key one for the intelligent animal genre. If Lassie is the talking-animal equivalent of low fantasy, and Duncton Wood is high, then this falls around the midpoint, slightly more towards the low end.
The characters are well-established and compelling, which is an impressive feat for an author writing about farmyard animals. You get a strong sense of how chicken society works, and Petunia herself is a protagonist it is easy to sympathise with. The weakest sections were the less chicken-centric ones – Petunia’s encounters with other species and the human world. I didn’t feel that those were as grounded or engaging, though in fairness, having a close viewpoint on a chicken does complicate things.
The atmosphere varies throughout – grimly practical for the coop, and with a soft-focus, dreamlike quality for the sections filled with colour and humans. Because it’s a first installment, it doesn’t resolve into a more consistent tone, and I am interested to see how it evolves in the next part.
Claws, Paws, Feathers & Jaws is an odd book to classify, but worth taking a look at.
Buy it here, or on the authors’ website.