by Michelle Edwards. Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1991, $13.95, ages 5-8
Just when you might have despaired of socialist Utopian communities, here comes a book to give you pause and make you smile.
Chicken Man, like all fine children’s books, tells a deceptively simple story. Chicken Man is a kibbutznik who sings while he works and loves his job so much that his friends each in turn think they want to be assigned to the job he is doing. Of course. Chicken Man’s pleasure in his work has most of all endeared him to the chickens who in the end effectively communicate to the kibbutz work committee that they need Chicken Man on a permanent basis.
The warmly colored, primitive-style painted illustrations by the author are brimming with familiar details of kibbutz life, from the special kind of window blinds that keep out the strong Mediterranean sunlight, to the sandals, hats, shorts and bedspreads in the children’s house.
This book uses the idealized kibbutz setting to help child readers explore a basic problem; How can people be happy at their work while at the same time making sure that all necessary nasty jobs get done? It tells us that a human community—who knows? perhaps even a family—might be able to be resilient, flexible and creative enough to achieve both these goals. What a pleasure to be treated to this delightful and meaningful story in the context of kibbutz life. It is, after all, in these communities of pioneering Israeli social experiment that humans have, with particular courage, sought to meet the universal challenge of matching work and workers.