The trouble with chickens, in the experience of J.J., the hard-boiled, seen-it-all world-weary hound living out his post-glory days in a country farmyard, is that they're flighty. Untrustworthy. Calculating, manipulative, and either a lot smarter than him, or very very dumb.
The trouble with chickens, in my experience, is that everything wants to eat them and they don't run fast. Still kind of mourning our backyard birds.
Barge and Lou hoping for lunch scraps, November 2005. Excellent laying hens, not quick enough to outrun a pit bull or a red-tailed hawk (respectively).
From either perspective, "chickens" are a good stand-in for "chicks" in this fast and funny introduction to noir detective fiction. Lower middle grade readers may at first be puzzled by the dour attitude of our hero J.J. - in the world of little-kid fiction, negativity is so rare as to be considered practically mental illness - but they will quickly catch on, as J.J. clearly has that wounded Bogart heart of gold underneath his gruff exterior.
Illustrations large and small are generously sprinkled throughout and serve to emphasize the humorous content. Kevin Cornell does a great job painting J.J. every shade of cranky, from mildly irritated to full-on furious, and the chickens and chicks are likewise expressive. I think it's the villain of this book, the demented Vince the Funnel (what a great name!) that I like the best, though. Glowering from the depths of his veterinary lampshade, Vince is thrillingly evil and ludicrous at the same time.
Look for this second chapter book in March. Will be a fun choice for second graders of all temperaments, and a great first-grade read-aloud.