I am so excited to share this blog post as I was invited to write it as a guest blogger on the PJ Library UK blog.
I have written before about how much we love the books we receive from PJ Library; it is such a wonderful organisation, and for my children to be able to read books that reflect their own lives and heritage is so precious. Diverse books are hard to come by and for this I thank you PJ Library!
Our latest book is Chicken Man; written and illustrated by Michelle Edwards and published by New South Books.
The story is set on a kibbutz in Israel named Kibbutz Hanan. A kibbutz is a communal settlement where all the members work and live together contributing to the running of it. I think kibbutzim (plural of kibbutz) are unique to Israel and even though I grew up learning about them and stayed on one as an adult, I find it difficult to explain to people, especially those who are unfamiliar with Israel, the true essence of what a kibbutz is. So, I was really excited when we received this book that was set on one!
Chicken Man, whose real name is Rody, has been given the nickname ‘Chicken Man’ by his fellow kibbutznikim (residents of a kibbutz) because when it was his turn to work in the chicken coop, the chickens were happy and laid more eggs than ever. On a kibbutz, every member takes their turn at the different jobs and when Bracha (who did not like her current role as baker) saw how happy Chicken Man was, she asked if she could be moved to the chicken coop next.
Chicken Man, sad to leave his chickens, was moved to the laundry where he sang all day as he washed and ironed to keep his spirits up. He was soon overheard by Dov (who was unhappy working in the dairy) and sure enough, Dov asked to be moved to the laundry. And so it continued, Chicken Man was moved to the garden and then the children’s house and with each move his placement was desired by someone who wanted to be as happy as Chicken Man. That is until there was a problem in the chicken coop that only Chicken Man can solve…
This is a lovely story about making the best of your situation and being happy with your lot. I think we can learn a lot from Chicken Man – we are all at times guilty of wanting what others have, but the grass is not always greener. It would be a perfect book to go to when discussing the Ten Commandents with your children too as there is a whole lot of coveting going on from the other residents of the kibbutz!
The story weaves in some great bits of information about a working kibbutz and we see many of the different jobs as well as a peek inside an unruly children’s house. My bigger boy found this page really funny as one of the children is winding a roll of toilet paper around the room – I hope he doesn’t get any ideas! Each of these different jobs are great talking points to discuss with your little ones as you read.
As well as reading stories about Judaism, I’m keen to teach my boys some Hebrew and there are some lovely snippets of Hebrew in the book; “Oy va voy!” Chicken Man shouts at one point in the story. This is a Hebrew phrase of exclamation, a bit like “Oh my gosh!” and “Oh no!” mixed together. The illustrations also show Hebrew labels on some items. I’ve noticed this in a few books from PJ Library, it’s a small feature but one that I really like as it is another way to introduce my children to the language.
Every page is full of life and activity, just like a real kibbutz. The illustrations fill each page with bright colours in thick and bold brush strokes. There is also a map of the kibbutz in the title page, we love looking at maps at the moment and trace routes with our fingers along the little paths to the different areas. I think kibbutzim that are run like the one in Chicken Man were at their height through the 1950s-1980s and the illustrations have a wonderful vintage feel to them that really reflect this era. They are sure to bring back memories for anyone who lived on one.
When I read this book with my three-year-old, I asked him which job he would like to do on a kibbutz. He loves baking so we thought that Bracha’s job of making cookies would be a good one for us!
Food is always at the centre of Jewish life and festivals so it’s wonderful to cook traditional recipes with my children and enjoy eating the results together. The hamantaschen we made for Purim were a huge hit so I searched the internet for any traditional kibbutz recipes and came across this recipe for Teigelach cookies. Perfect!
I changed some of the quantities as the recipe was for 60 cookies and the syrup also asked for 5 cups of honey which I thought was quite a lot so I just used one. Here’s how we got on…
You start off by making a dough and then splitting it, shaping it and splitting it again.
Then you take each small piece around your fingers to make a ring shape.
Once you have all your cookies shaped and on a baking sheet, sprinkle with a mixture of sugar and ginger.
Then place them into your bubbling, sweet honey syrup for about half an hour.
When they’re cooked, take them out and set them on a tray to strain.
Then cover in the rest of your ginger sugar mixture.
And there you have it, cookies straight from the kibbutz!
These cookies were really unique and not like anything I’ve baked before. They were also incredibly sweet! They would be a good cookie to make for Rosh Hashanah (Jewish new year) when we eat foods with honey to wish for a sweet new year.
Michelle Edwards has a gorgeous website where you can download a Chicken Man colouring sheet and there are even a few more recipes to tempt you.Follow @Acornbooks