By Kelly Jones, author of the Unusual Chicken series
I write books for kids, so I often visit schools to talk about writing and research and all the things that go into my stories. And since I often write about chickens, I ask kids how someone could learn how to take care of them. They suggest going to the library and reading nonfiction books, but they also decide that talking to people who know a lot about chickens and doing your own observations could help, too.
That’s exactly what I did! Back when my partner and I were wondering if chickens could be a good fit for us and our suburban backyard, we went on the Chicken Coop & Urban Farm Tour. We talked to friendly chicken keepers, saw real-life versions of the coop design we were considering (and picked up some great building tips and alterations!), and watched real live chickens do chicken stuff.
The urban farms we visited looked great – but they also looked manageable. They weren’t working farms, with acres and barns and staff. They belonged to people with yards like ours and other jobs to do, who still found time to take care of a few chickens. And the chickens were hilarious! Watching them search for slugs and strut around the garden made keeping chickens feel not just possible, but fun. Even the expressions on their serious little faces made us laugh. Suddenly, backyard chickens didn’t feel like such an unusual step.
I visit schools because meeting an author inspires kids to read, sure – but it also makes a mysterious occupation feel more approachable and achievable. Seeing that I’m a regular person and asking questions about what I do encourages kids to imagine themselves in a job like mine someday. And that’s exactly what the Chicken Coop & Urban Farm Tour did for me: it allowed me to imagine chickens in my own backyard, to ask questions about what it takes to care for them, and to hear real answers. How high of a fence do I need? What if it snows? What kinds of plants can I grow with chickens roaming around? When you open up that little door to the nest box, what could be inside?
I’m so grateful to the people who opened up their backyards and answered all my questions. Back then, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever get chickens of my own. I certainly didn’t know I’d write books about taking care of them (with some magic and humor thrown in!) And I had no idea kids from all over the country would write back to tell me about their chickens.
But by the time I had an idea for a story with backyard goats, I knew exactly how I could learn more. Back to the farm tour I went! (No, I don’t have goats of my own…yet!)
Kelly Jones lives in Shoreline with her partner and their backyard chickens. She writes novels for kids, including the Unusual Chickens series (about a girl taking care of chickens who have superpowers), and Sauerkraut, (about a boy who makes all kinds of things, including an obstacle course for his friend’s goats, available this September.) You can find her books in the Puget Sound’s many wonderful independent bookstores and libraries. Find out what she and her chickens are up to on Twitter and Instagram @curiosityjones, or at www.curiosityjones.net.