My friend, Jo Beth, and I always shared funny stories we had while teaching and fishing, and camping, and hunting (yes, shamefully, I once hunted), and what not. We had a boatload of funny things happen to us back in our younger days when we used to run around together and throw teacher parties in Alvin. Anyway, we’d always said: “we should write a book about this someday,” and I’d always say: “well it’d better be soon because I’m already forgetting some of the earlier ones.” You know what? I’ve already forgotten nearly all of them now.
I didn’t want to do that with my chickens. I didn’t want to wait until all my chickens were gone before I started my stories. I didn’t want to forget my Chanticleer the rooster, my Harriet, with the crooked beak, my Peter the peacock that may turn up in another book someday, before I started to memorialize them in a children’s book. I wanted young people to know how much fun chickens are to raise, how relaxing they are to watch, how hilarious they can be, but how mean they can be to each other, too, if you buy the wrong breed. Teaching breeds to children became a focus, too, then, for just that reason. So, I started to come up with my cast of characters, both good chickens and bad, but I needed a plot, or story-line. Aside from educating young children about the breeds of chickens you can buy or hatch, and the innate behavior of that breed, I needed something that would move my story along. What would it be about, and how would I get it illustrated?
It just so happens I have a sister-in-law, Debbie Marceaux, who is a fantastic artist. When I told her what I wanted to do, she said she had always wanted to illustrate a children’s book, so I started working right away on a story line. I settled on writing about what I knew best and for which I most had a passion. It would be about teaching language skills, the kind of skills I found sorely lacking in my high school classes, even among some of my senior Advanced Placement classes. Though it would be a children’s book, I believed the language of the book could be scaled down to guide lower-grade level teachers, or parents, or perhaps even some of the more precocious students themselves, into thinking more clearly, and speaking and writing more precisely and concisely. A mammoth objective on the surface, but I believed in my theory and started pecking away (excuse my pun J) at it’s complexity.
The results you can find in the text of BeakSpeak itself, but especially in the questions and answers at the back of the book. Lastly, I needed a moral to my little fable. That was easy enough when you are dealing with both chickens and young people. By nature, both come into this world hard-wired to live in a pecking-order. That’s a sad thing to have to say about our social system, but there is no hiding from its truth. Fortunately, children can be taught how to handle this kind of thing, though there is nothing easy about doing that. Chickens, on the other hand, can’t. They are either pecked into submission, or even death, or a human has to physically remove the bully. I would send mine to other farmers who would take them because they had lots of room and let their flock live outside all the time (they lost chickens to coyotes, dogs, hawks, etc., doing that, though), or put them they put them in the stew pot. I just learned never to buy Barred Rock and other bully breeds again.
So, there you have it; it was easy to use defeating bullies as the moral to my little BeakSpeak. I hope it helps. We sorely need it.