Book Reviews


Pirate Chicken: All Hens on Deck
By Brian Yanish, pictures by Jess Pauwels, c.2019, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, $17.99, 32 pages

Lily the Hen was like no other chicken in the coop.

While other hens were happy to peck in the dirt and roost, Lily loved science, reading and exploring. She knew there were big things to see, and she aimed to see them.

And so, on the day the pirates came to the farm, Lily volunteered to join them.

She taught the other hens to navigate and understand maps. She taught them about sailing, and they visited strange new places. It was an adventure, but the other hens were unhappy. 

Lily made them do all the work, the cleaning and scrubbing! She made them sleep in tiny little nests and do homework! The other hens staged a mutiny and made Lily walk the plank.

But just before she was about to make a big splash, Lily began to think. Was she really a pirate, or was she something else—something better? 

Some of us are born leaders. Some of us happen to be chickens. Won’t it delight your child to find someone who’s both?

Indeed, this book is a great preschool romp, but it’s not for featherbrains. Lily is a smart hen who wants more for herself, and she works to get it. And yet, she’s no m-egg-lomaniac, which gives parents a chance to present sharing, quietly assertive behavior, and other traits of a good leader. 

Certainly, children who love chickens will want this book read again and again. Little pirate wanna-be’s will arrrrrrrdore it, as will adventurous kids who love swashbuckling tales. 

Buzz, Sting, Bite: Why We Need Insects
By Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson, c.2019, Simon & Schuster, $26, 235 pages

Researchers say there are “more than 200 million insects for every human being…on the planet today.” 

So what, exactly, is an insect?

The author says that a “good rule of thumb” is to count the legs. If you get to six and they’re attached to the creature’s midsection, it’s an insect. 

There’s a lot to learn when it comes to insects.

Insects’ blood is yellow, for starters, which explains the gunk on your windshield. Bugs may have multiple eyes. Some insects have ears on their bodies or tongues on their feet; some have no mouth because they don’t live long enough to need one. 

Smash, slap, spray, swear, but we still need bugs. Without them, we’d be buried beneath dead creatures and dung. Many of the world’s industries would die and, with nothing to pollinate our plants, so would we. 

If, when presented with a book like this, your first inclination is to shiver or flinch, give yourself a minute. Bugs are our buddies, and you need to repeat that. As you’ll read in this fascinating book, it’s actually true.

But it’s not just bugs you’ll find here. Because the crawlies don’t live in a vacuum, the author also includes other critters in her run through our ecosystem, showing how bugs benefit other living things and vice versa. This symbiosis is highly interesting, as are the peeks into insect anatomy, bugs’ beds and bed bugs, and the dark side of bugdom—all told in a way that’s butterfly-light but seriously fun to read.

The Wonder of Lost Causes
By Nick Trout, c.2019, Wm. Morrow, $16.99, 464 pages

Dr. Kate Blunt gave the dog a 14-day reprieve. Space was tight at the shelter Kate ran, and two weeks was all any dog got. 

This dog was in pretty bad shape, skinny, with scars on his muzzle. However, the second he saw Kate’s son, Jasper, the dog came alive.

Jasper, 11, knew nobody would believe him, but the connection he had with the animal was immediate and weird. It was like the dog was putting words in Jasper’s head, like when the dog said that its name was Whistler. 

What was bad was that the dog was microchipped. 

Whistler belonged somewhere else, to a program in Texas that trained service dogs, and there was a little girl that desperately needed him. Kate saw the likely ending.

At first sniff, this story seems pretty new-agey and maybe, with the mind-reading bit, a hair on the odd side. Yes, it’s fun to Doctor-Doolittle with a dog, but that uncanny communication becomes oversized here, in narrative that’s too long and that contains at least one pointless side plot.

And yet, that won’t matter one bit to fans of dog stories. Nope, this book is irresistible because it’s about a dog and about love. 

If you’re not a dog lover, move along. For puppy parents with patience, though, this book could be the pick of the litter. 

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Terri has been reading since she was 3 years old and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives in Wisconsin with two pampered pooches and 13,000 books.