Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Children's Book Review, Chook Chook: Mei's Secret Pets

Children's Book Review by Susan Stephenson,

Can you guess what sold me on this chapter book for younger readers? With a name like Chook Chook, how could a Book Chook resist? Chook Chook: Mei’s Secret Pets by Wai Chim was published by UQP Australia (2012).

Since the death of Mei’s father, her ma has refused to keep animals on the family farm. So when Mei finds two baby chickens, she shares her delightful discovery with no one but her older brother Guo.

Mei does her best to keep her newfound friends a secret, but all does not go as planned. When Ma sells the chooks to the fearsome one-eyed butcher, their fates seem sealed.

Is there anything Mei can do to save her beloved chooks from the butcher’s knife?

Tension is built throughout the story – we can “see” the scary one-eyed butcher with his bulging, bugging eye, and hear the explosions of sound from the marketplace as he bangs his cleaver down. Like Mei, our hearts are in our mouths as we worry over the fate of her beloved chooks.

Chim’s writing not only conveys the different culture and customs of China, but also helps young readers enter into a young girl’s fears and love for her pets. Although Mei’s life is hard, the story’s message is ultimately an uplifting one as Mei extends and gains kindness from strangers. We also see the rift in her family heal.

This book would make an excellent choice for children’s multicultural studies. The rural Chinese setting and the way Chim shows us the details of Mei’s life helps kids gain an understanding of a life so different from a Western one.

I think Chook Chook: Mei’s Secret Pets will appeal to kids who love animals, particularly girls, and those who want to read a dramatic, well-written chapter book. Little sketches embellish the story but are not crucial to kids’ understanding – they are used as chapter headings. The publisher recommends the book for ages 8 and up.

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