written and illustrated by Jean-Francois Dumont
Interest level: first grade and up
Reading level: 4.1
3 out of 5 stars
I must admit that I read this book because I saw a review that likened the rooster and his wall-building mission to Donald Trump and his presidential campaign lunacy. And I must say that Jean-Francois Dumont must have had psychic abilities back in 2011 when he wrote and illustrated The Chickens Build a Wall because it really does bear an uncanny resemblance to current events.
In all seriousness though, this book does have a serious lesson to teach young readers. One day a hedgehog shows up in the middle of the barnyard and the animals have no idea what he is. At first they are fascinated by him, and they all gather around to observe. Feeling a little overwhelmed, the hedgehog rolls into a ball and stays there for the rest of the day. When the barnyard awakens in the morning, the hedgehog is gone and the gossip and rumors start to fly. The animals quickly move from being curious about the newcomer to envisioning that he had come to steal their chicks and eggs. A quick search shows that all are accounted for, but there might possibly be fewer worms than before. A rooster, looking for some attention, convinces the hens that they needed to build a wall to keep the “invader” out. Mob mentality takes over, and a huge wall is erected, only to discover that the hedgehog has been hiding in the hay on the inside of the wall the entire time. It takes so long for the rooster to dig an opening in the wall to get the hedgehog out, that all the animals get used to him and aren’t afraid anymore, and he stays the rest of his days in the barnyard.
The narrative of the story is rather lengthy and written to a 4th grade level, and the lesson to be learned is fairly serious, so for those reasons I would recommend this book to readers over kindergarten age. The illustrations are stunning and combine a wonderful, orange-red palette, with adorable animals. There is great use of shadowing and different view points, which help tell the story. For example, when the rooster is acting grandiose and preaching to the other animals about the need for protection, he is larger than life, towering over the hens, who are only seen from the tops of their heads.
For the right reader or audience, this is a very well-told story that teaches about the dangers of intolerance and xenophobia, and encourages people to learn about the unknown instead of condemning it automatically as a threat.