Chooks in the City (Book Report)

  • Chooks in the City  by Alyson Hill
  • Ginninderra Press, Charnwood, ACT, Australia, 2007
  • 56 pages; 16 colour photos

Chooks in the City is a work of narrative non-fiction. Or, to use a more low-falutin’ term, it’s a neighbourly chat over the fence about Alyson’s chickens, her Dad’s chickens, and her friends’ chickens, all raised in backyards throughout suburban Canberra.

Her first chapter opens with a near-scuffle with the new next-door neighbour. Her closing chapter lets us imagine her in a “crappy” mood, coffee cup in hand, “staring gormlessly at the six chickens” until their antics cheer her up again. In the seven chapters in between, Alyson writes about how she and her friends choose their chooks, keep the chooks safe, feed them, handle them, and check for illness — all in anecdotal form.

My only memory of backyard chickens is that of my sixth-grade best friend Stacey. Her family lived on a half-acre lot in a rural crossroads. Their chicken coop was like a small raised shed: you went up two steps and through a full-sized door to feed the chickens and collect their eggs. I was surprised, then, to learn in Chooks that chickens can be kept in thigh-high runs that can be scooted around the yard like wheelbarrows.

I didn’t even know what “broody” means when I started reading this book. Alyson doesn’t explicitly define the term, either, in her chapter “Eggs and Broodiness”. She doesn’t need to. As she talks about her experiences, the meaning becomes clear (page 31): 

Chooks are induced to broodiness by things like the sight of eggs, uncollected, lying huddled in the nest box; or a sudden rise in temperature can make a hen feel all warm and motherly.

In the same way, Alyson gives a lot of information effortlessly, informally, and entertainingly.  Should you choose your chickens by colour, or are there other criteria to consider — and if so, what? How do you introduce a new hen to an existing flock? What’s an easy test to see if an egg is stale? What’s good, and what isn’t, about feeding sunflower seeds to a hen? In what way is straw a poor nesting material? The answers to these questions and more are in this book.

Chooks also includes three appendices: a list of poultry-buying places in the Canberra area; a dozen general ideas on how to use those extra eggs; and four recipes. I’ve just tried one of them, the Impossible Pie, using some leftover chicken and veggies. I’ve gotta admit, chopped fine, mixed with eggs and cheese and milk, and and baked so that it forms a nice soft crust, my “tastes-like-vegan chicken soup” tastes a heckuva lot better.

Quote from Chooks in the City, page 43:

I have come across many a chicken sprawled, dirty and dead-looking in the sun, and jumped out of my skin when it has flipped its head over and preened its back while spasmodically kicking more dirt around. This is chicken happiness.

12 Responses to Chooks in the City (Book Report)

  1. Shelley says:

    Are these rhetorical questions or is there a prize for the most correct answers? 😉

  2. goodbear says:

    nice book report. love the cover of the book, and the title. i’m going to only call them chooks from now on…

  3. lavenderbay says:

    Well let’s say, Shelley, that the fewer questions you can answer, the more you might want to look into purchasing the book! 🙂

    Thanks, Goodbear! I like the cover too. And I never heard the word “chook” until I started reading Laugh in the Sun; “chook” definitely deserves more air time here in North America.

  4. Alyson says:

    I can’t believe I’m looking at a photo of my book sitting on the other side of the world! Thankyou so much Lavenderbay, writing a book doesn’t make it easier at all to put yourself ‘out there’, I can’t tell you how flattered I feel at your book reportage. You can book report for me anytime.

    What did you guys call them before ‘chooks’? Chick…oh, yeah, sorry.

  5. livingisdetail says:

    Cool book report. It sounds like a great chook book. By the way I have tagged you for a meme lavenderbay if you chose to accept. I know memes are not everyone’s cup of tea so I’ll leave it up to you.

  6. lavenderbay says:

    I just hope my reports generate enough interest to cover your postage, Alyson! It was neat to read your book. My best writing tends to be informal (and often with twitches of humour); I’ve never attempted a “publishable” piece because I couldn’t picture the audience for it. To see the anecdotal style succeed, as in your book, is encouraging. Maybe someday…
    And, yeah, North America being a hotbed of verbal contractions (“Chuck”, “Ed”, “Jo”, “Gwyn”, etc. ) , I’m surprised we haven’t yet reduced the word “chicken” to one syllable.

    I looked up Ginninderra Press, Livingisdetail, and saw that they focus on regional topics, history and such; it sounds like stuff you might be interested in. Chooks in the City is also offered on several web sites selling chickens and coops.
    Dunno what a meme is yet; I didn’t get to anyone else’s site yesterday, so I’d better get a move on!

  7. Makes me want to go out and get the book. Somehow though it sounds like you can relate this book to the assimilation of people into a new group or unknown environment.

  8. jamesviscosi says:

    I love the title. I agree with Urban Thought, it sounds like a tale about immigrants (that happen to be chickens) …

  9. lavenderbay says:

    Actually, you guys, having read and knowing the answer to how one introduces new chickens to the established flock, I’m not sure it would work so well for humans. If Alyson swings by again to see your comments, she must be ROTFL at the thought of it — especially if the new members are chicks. I just wish the chook procedure DID work with people, as it’s pretty simple and effective.

  10. Alyson says:

    I am cacking myself (laughing alot) – chooks are parodies of people when you watch them and there are some aspects of them I’d trade for in human traits….the hard sharp peck right on the top of the head is not one of them….nor the daily egg…but the rest would be cool.

    I can’t stop giggling at the thought of a group of immigrant people called ‘chooks’ and what they would look like wandering around the city…why do they all have red kerchiefs on in my head?

  11. lavenderbay says:

    Red kerchiefs? And I suppose they would prefer their houses to be wattle-and-daub?

  12. […] covers. The truth is, I read very slowly, subvocalizing everything. Except for Alyson’s  book, which I actually read twice, I don’t manage to plough my way through things at any great […]

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