Friday, April 18, 2008

Chicken Man

Deep in Israel's Jezreel Valley, lived a man known to his mother as Rody and to all the rest of Kibbutz Hanan as Chicken Man.

CHICKEN MAN, winner of the National Jewish Book Award and my first trade picture book

is back in print. It's based loosely on my experiences working on Kibbutz Mizra.

My friend Rodney worked in the kibbutz chicken coop. He told me all about the chickens,

especially Clara, a chick on the third floor, who wasn't like the others. He lovingly

imitated her nervouse wobble and cluck. I envied Rodney. The chicken coop seemed like

friendly, funny place to work.

I had been working in some very boring and unappealing places like the cemetery and

laundry (diaper section, don't ask.) A family crisis forced Rodney to return home to South

Africa and I begged to take his place in the chicken coop. When I read the work list

and learned that I had been given his job, I was ecstatic.

The next day, wearing Rodney's old hat, his long sleeved shirt, and his rubber boots, I

stood in front of the four-story kibbutz chicken coop eager to begin work. I was soon to

enter scared ground. The enchanted chicken coop.

Haim, the kibbutznik in charge of training me, took me to the chicken coop's elevator.

Together we rode up to the fourth floor, where the oldest and sickest chickens resided. A

dead chicken was in our path.

Haim picked it up. "Happens." He shrugged.

Not in Rodney's stories, I thought.

The other floors of the chicken coop were very noisy. The chickens pecked and poked

and were unwilling to move, making it impossible for me to gather their eggs.

"Sometimes you have to push the chickens off. Like this," said Haim.

It looked to me like Haim was hurling a chicken across the room.

"Doesn't that hurt the chickens?" I asked.

"They don't mind it," he said. "See. Then you take the eggs."

My head itched under my hat. My hand was already covered with scratches from the

pecking chickens. My nose was rebelling against the pungent air. I stood still a moment

and then I knew. Every part of my body knew. The chicken coop was a terrible place to

work. I thought about Rodney and his stories about Clara and the other chicks and

smiled. Rodney was a great storyteller and a great teacher.

I learned that day there in a four-story chicken coop, on Kibbutz Mizra in the

Jezreel Valley, that even amid hurling chickens, piles of hay and eggs, flying chicken feathers and

sticky chicken droppings, noisy clucking and pecking, there were stories to be found.


knitwritedraw said...

Oh MY!! Sorry about tying form.

Sarah said...

Michelle, what a great story! Now I need to go get Chicken Man--so glad it is back in print!

Amy Huntington said...

They have it at Pheonix books in Essex. I'm so glad to know that story Michelle.