Victoria Peckham, Annie Yolkley, Rosie Van der Beak, Pearl S. Cluck: All of these delightful monikers have two things in common. They are all, of course, pun-derful plays on chicken-ness, but they are also all past winners of the Golden Feather Award for Chickentown’s Best Hen of the Year.
That’s a very big deal in Chickentown, a fabulously feather-strewn village created by Spanish author-illustrator Albert Arrayás as the backdrop for his fantastical and funny The Chickentown Mystery. Rather than being relegated to backyard coops, Chickentown’s hens live with people in their houses. They play checkers, take luxurious bubble baths and sleep snugly in their beds. Nigella “Minnie” Cooper even appears to drive her very own car.
Arrayás captures Chickentown and its denizens in delicate pencil and watercolor illustrations filled with pinks and oranges that convey a sense of warmth and whimsy. Indigo blues introduce an air of mystery when—what the cluck?—hens start to go missing mere days before this year’s Golden Feather competition. Will Mayor Cockscomb’s search parties locate the missing chickens? Or will local witch Miss Henrietta and her hen, Lucinda, need to assist?
Arrayás sprinkles clues throughout, transforming tastefully decorated bedrooms into crime scenes for budding forensic investigators. Once the gasp-inducing finale reveals the perpetrator and readers recover from their upended expectations, they’ll rush right back to the beginning to scrutinize the book’s pages anew.
While Arrayás’ themes are clear—doing the right thing is rewarded, and we shouldn’t believe everything we see—he leaves plenty of room for imagination as well. His art offers tantalizing hints about the enigmatic chickens’ inner lives, and his story is a thought-provoking blend of mystery, comedy and magic that will have readers looking at their feathered friends with heightened appreciation and a healthy dose of speculation.