While new generations are reading the graphic novel trilogy March and being inspired by the life of civil rights leader and Congressman John Lewis, Preaching to the Chickens gives younger readers their own introduction to this living legend.
Growing up in the 1940s on an Alabama farm, Lewis watched his sharecropper father plow behind a mule and his mother boil the family’s clothes clean in a big iron pot. Inspired by Lewis’ memoir Walking with the Wind, Jabari Asim describes how Lewis used his love of God and church to create his own spiritual kingdom in the family chicken yard as he watched over a flock of Rhode Island Reds, bantams and Dominiques: “John stretched his arms above his flock and let the words pour fourth. The chickens nodded and dipped their beaks as if they agreed. They swayed to the rhythm of his voice.”
Lewis learns many invaluable lessons while saving a favorite hen from being sold, rescuing another from a well and watching a seemingly drowned chick come back to life. Meanwhile, his brothers and sisters hear his “henhouse sermons” so often that they start calling him “Preacher.”
E.B. Lewis’ watercolors beautifully capture the dusty world of this poor Southern farm, young Lewis’ ebullience in both the church pew and chicken yard, and the unusual way he discovers the voice and moral compass he’ll put to such astounding use as an adult. Asim’s author’s note briefly describes Lewis’ achievements and how he became inspired to write this picture book.
This small tale of a very big life is a winner.