I bought Sonya's Chickens because I love Pheobe Wahl's illustrations and I love chickens. My husband got some biddies for our backyard a couple years ago, and we've been enjoying fresh eggs and clucking antics ever since. Upon reading the story to my daughter we discovered it is about the cycle of life and death told in a way that is simplistic enough for a child to grasp and accept.
Sonya's father brings home baby chicks and gives them to her to care for. She becomes a little mother who feeds, loves and cares for them.
Sonya is a wonderful mother to her hens, and she is rewarded by the gift of the first egg. One night she awakens to outside noises and creeps out to check on her birds. She begins to cry when she realizes one is missing. Her father brings her back inside to help her understand what has happened.
He describes a hungry fox, like any parent, trying to provide for the whole family. "He didn't know or care that it was our chicken he took. He just saw a chance to feed his family. I know you feel sad but you wouldn't want those baby foxes to go hungry, would you?"
Sonya's father shows her how the fox is a daddy caring for his child, just as Sonya herself cared for her chicks. "He loves his kits too. So even though it's sad for us, we can understand why he did it."
The family holds a small memorial for the "bird who was loved." In the end Sonya is delighted by the hatching of a new chick, and the truth that life continues on. "I will be your mama," she says, "I will do everything I can to make sure you are happy and have a full belly and a warm place to sleep."
If you happen to be looking for a gentle way to explain death to a child, this is a good starting point. It's warm, safe, and filled with love.
Wahl's textural style of cut paper collage, colored pencil and painting is enchanting. The warm colors and patterns aways give me a cozy feeling. I also appreciate that she depicts bi-racial families and relationships in much of her art. Her bio states that her work "focuses on themes of comfort, nostalgia and intimacy with nature and one another. She grew up unschooled in Washington state, and credits her 'free range' childhood in the Northwest for much of her inspiration and work ethics." Sonya's Chickens was the recipient of the Ezra Jack Keats Book Award for New Illustrator, as well as a Kirkus star, and was listed by School Library Journal, Kirkus and HuffPost Books as being one of the Best Children's Books of 2015.