Chickens Can’t See in the Dark by Kristyna Litten

Roll up, roll up! Pull up a chair, squeeze in, pass the sweets round, for I have a thing of wonder for you to behold! The fabulous Kristyna Litten has created a picture book with a female animal main character! Yes, it is true! Now hold on to your seats because there’s more…. She’s female, yes, but she doesn’t feel the need to wear pink, or be quiet and peck away in a corner, or to take the word of a cockerel without question. She dares to be different! In short, she is a feminist hen! I can’t tell you how excited I am by this! You may get a sense of it from my excessive use of exclamation marks. (!)

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Over the last few weeks I have been (over)analysing gender in picture books as I read them. I have been blogging about the lack of female animal characters in picture books and the potential effects on readers, and hunting for positive female animal characters. AND I HAVE FOUND A TRULY MARVELLOUS ONE! Chickens Can’t See in the Dark has jumped out as being different from the mould in many ways.

The story centres around our feminist hen Little Pippa, who has been told by her teacher Mr Benedict that chickens can’t see in the dark. Well, Little Pippa isn’t impressed with that at all! She wants to see in the dark more than anything. So she decides to find out for herself. She goes to visit Mr Owl who laughs at her seemingly ridiculous suggestion. But our plucky hen (oh dear) will not give in that easily. Off she goes to find out more. Her inquisitive mind leads her to the library where Miss Featherbrain the librarian tells her that seeing in the dark is merely an old hen’s tale. Still not prepared to give up, Little Pippa hunts for a book of old hen’s tales. And there she finds it – carrots help you see in the dark. Carrots! Off to the farm shop and the pantry she goes, laughed at all the way but determined to test her theory. Soon she has prepared a huge feast of carrot-based cuisine and the whole town arrives to witness Little Pippa prove them all wrong.

What a gal! Resourceful, inquisitive, resilient, determined, brave, sure of her own mind and more than prepared to use it. We could all do with a bit of Little Pippa’s self assurance now and then. Perhaps carrots are the answer?

I love that Kristyna Litten has created such a warm, positive book with a strong inspirational character. I think the message of believing in yourself, following your dreams and never giving up is a hugely positive one to get across to young children, and I think she has done just that beautifully. I’m particularly impressed by the nod to the power of libraries and by the gentle humour found throughout the book. And to be honest, who could possibly resist a chicken wearing glasses and thigh high blue boots? Chickens Can’t See in the Dark is a real winner and one I will proudly wave under the noses of children and adults for a long time to come. Bravo, Ms Litten, BRAVO!

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