Title: The Chickens Build a Wall
Author: Jean-Francois Dumont
Illustrator: Jean-Francois Dumont
Publisher: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2013
Audience: Ages 4-8
Summary: When a little hedgehog appears in the barnyard, the suspicious farm animals quickly let rumors and inflammatory rhetoric overrule common sense. At the direction of the rooster, the hens build a huge wall around the henhouse, only to discover, months later, that they have walled the visitor in with them.
Literary elements at work in the story: This would be an amusing plot of mistaken identity all on its own, but it is Dumont’s clever dialogue and humorous illustrations which make characterization the real driver here. The chickens in this tale mimic all the worst of human foibles – suspicion, desperate desire for attention, small-mindedness, xenophobia – and all of these characteristics emerge from the chickens themselves. No amount of authorial commentary would be nearly as effective as the escalating rumor mill: “Who does that creature think he is?” “Gone, like a thief! Strange.” “I bet he didn’t leave empty-handed.” “We should count our chicks!” “And our eggs!” A two-page spread showing indignant hens with eyes bulging and wattles wagging accentuates the growing siege mentality.
How does the perspective on gender/race/culture/economics/ability make a difference to the story? Dumont is an equal-opportunity satirist here. While all the farm animals demonstrate provincial ignorance about the little hedgehog, it is the chickens which are the main players. Dumont caricatures the chickens along gender lines: the rooster decides to “control a barnyard full of hens who hadn’t been paying much attention to him” by dreaming up the wall-building plan, and the hens “quivered with excitement, carried away by the rooster’s fine words.” Most adult readers will understand the satire in the story, but it will be important to point out the flaws in the characters’ motivations and actions to younger listeners. It is a nice touch that the only wise words in the story come from the smallest goose and one little chicken, each of whom points out the errors in the elders’ thinking.
Theological Conversation Partners: Human beings are prone to an ‘us/them’ view of the world. ‘They’ are not like ‘us’ and are therefore to be mistrusted. Jesus spent his three-year ministry living out a call to the exact opposite way of life, embracing all people, no matter what their physical, mental, or national states were. This story would be a great companion for any of Jesus’ stories of the ‘other,’ e.g., the woman at the well (John 4:1-26), the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10), etc. Likewise, Paul’s message that “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28) comes to mind in this story of wall-building to emphasize divisions. When the youngest members of the barnyard flock make wise suggestions in The Chickens Build a Wall, Jesus’ admonition to his disciples to “let the little children come unto me” (Matthew 19:14) resonates, as does the story of the little boy who shared his lunch with a crowd (John 6:1-15).
Faith Talk Questions:
- Why do you think that the barnyard animals were wary of the little hedgehog?
- Why do you think that the chickens built the big wall around the henhouse?
- What do you think that the hedgehog was planning to do to the chickens? What makes you think that?
- Do people ever judge others by the way they look?
- What did Jesus do when he met someone who was different from himself?
- The author of this book doesn’t tell us exactly what happened after the rooster had to dig an opening in the wall to let the hedgehog out. Tell what you think might have happened next.
This review was written by regular contributor Beth Lyon-Suhring.
The Chickens Build a Wall by Storypath is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.