Never heard of it. An international bestseller? For adults? That’s probably why I don’t recognise the title, I stick to the kids sections nowadays.
That’s what I said to my friend when she told me about a story she had read for a book club she goes to. I was intrigued, so I stuck it on my Christmas list and was lucky enough to find it in my stocking on Christmas morning. On Boxing Day, whilst my husband took his traditional afternoon nap, I decided to give it a go.
This story, a kind of fable, follows a hen named Sprout who is struggling to lay eggs and desperately wants a chick of her own. She wants to be free and ‘fly the coop’. When she stops laying, the farmers who own her cease to want her, as all they care about is the eggs that she produces. It is decided that she is to be culled. I immediately found myself reaching out for Sprout; a hen so filled with love, facing firm barriers blocking her from achieving her ambitions.
Sprout manages to escape her death sentence and subsequently finds herself without a real home of her own. She’s been banished from the coop, the animals in the barn won’t accept her or protect her from the dangers of the outside world for long. The villainous weasel is always lurking. Fortunately, Sprout does manage find a friend in a duck called Straggler who supports her when she begins to incubate a stray egg as if it were her own.
This powerful and stirring story epitomises the struggle for freedom and rights in a hostile world. All Sprout wants is to be a mother and to be free, but the whole world is against her. The farmers that own her do not see her as a individual, just an egg making machine. The animals in the barn see her as a hindrance, someone different, someone who could put them in harms way. The weasel, well Sprout is just dinner to them. With sheer determination and strength, Sprout follows her heart and does what she thinks is right and just.
I can see why this book has been an international bestseller and how it parallels other classic works such as Charlotte’s Web and Animal Farm. I wonder, if like Animal Farm, this story is supposed to mirror political situations in South Korea? Not knowing much about the background of the South Korean author, I couldn’t say for certain, but it would make sense for there to be some underlying political message in the story as fables can be powerful in translating real life challenges.
The charming illustrations help set the scene for the modest surroundings and existence of Sprout. The simplistic water colour cover is just beautiful. In fact, I might have to go into my attic to dig out my old water colours as I feel inspired to replicate some similar pictures. I particularly like the different leaves on the trees, some like a colour chart of bows, others like multi coloured stained glass windows overlapping.
This book made me reminisce back to a time when I had three chickens of my own. One of them became very broody – she started to sit on the eggs she laid, as if she wanted them to hatch. We ended up getting her three fertilised eggs to sit on which resulted her becoming a mummy to three of the cutest little chicks I have ever seen. It was an exciting time and Luna did a great job of looking after them. I’m glad we got them for her; I feel that Sprout would have approved of our decision to help Luna become a mum!
I would recommend this book to anyone, of any age. It is heart warming, uplifting and guaranteed to stir up your emotions. This humble hen and her story is unforgettable, such a strong character is difficult to let slip from memory.