CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 7 . . . . October 14, 2011
Milo’s project for the science fair this year is “The Complete Life Cycle of a Link in the Food Chain” – a.k.a. Henrietta the Chicken. As she progresses from hatchling to full-grown hen, Henrietta becomes important to most of the sixth grade science class as a pet, and to the ice-hockey team as a mascot and lucky charm. Milo is bewildered at the attentions showered on his “specimen”, though, and he is shocked at the outrage his fellow students show when the time comes to send off Henrietta to Arno’s Butcher Shop. All he’s trying to do is demonstrate the food chain – to do well at the science fair could mean a visit with his father, the Nobel Prize-winning astronomer Victor Neal. Opposing him are Kelly Marie, psychology expert and all-round activist, who loves Henrietta, and the Rangers, with Captain Adam at the head, who need Henrietta to win at ice hockey games. At Milo’s side stands Zachary, Hollywood scriptwriter-to-be, who wants to make ‘connections’ in the industry via Milo’s famous father. As Henrietta changes hands from one caretaker to another, events come to a head and things tumble along to a satisfying conclusion for all.
Gordon Korman’s lively, straightforward writing keeps the reader moving on to the next happening/accident/adventure (depending on who is seeing it) without slowing down, making for a breathless, rollicking read that is full of fun. The narrative focuses on action and events, related from the point of view of several colourful characters who are clearly distinguishable from one another in speech, thought and behaviour. Milo will make experiment notes, Kelly Marie will give psychology talks, and Zachary will provide scripts from his files for the reader, for example. Some of the less-than-main characters’ voices are also included in the narrative collection, a pleasant surprise, such as that of Mrs. Baggio, the science teacher, and Coach Crenshaw, the hockey coach. Each ‘report’ is unique to the character yet fits smoothly, one into another, to make a well crafted whole. Likewise for the individual events which pile up to the grand finale; as a reading experience it is very satisfying, comparable to riding a roller coaster. The hockey aspect is also very strong and may appeal to readers who would be less interested in science fairs.
Although it is quite clear that The Chicken Doesn’t Skate is aiming for sheer, outrageous fun, there are many elements in the story that invite the reader to take a closer look, explore. Without getting sidetracked into more complex depictions and thus losing the clear-cut, fast-paced story, readers skim by bullying, being kept behind a grade, ‘losers’, coping with new surroundings and seeing less of a parent after a divorce and move, vegetarianism, perceived justice versus the rules, how to write letters to your congressman, the drama of ice hockey and, of course, (although very briefly), the life cycle of a chicken. Would it be overenthusiastic of me to say that readers may become interested in finding out more about what part in the food chain a chicken plays, and what its life cycle is? I know I did – I looked up ‘chicken’ in Wikipedia.
Saeyong Kim is studying for a Master of Arts in Children’s Literature at the University of British Columbia, BC.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.