Mama is mother to two adorable kidlets and a backyard of curiously cute chooks – Aussie slang for chicken.
At first, she wasn’t at all sure she wanted to take on such a strange new glossary of feathers and fuss, but once the hens arrived, she changed her mind.
And this is really the crux of this comforting tale; the fact that mama’s mind is slowly but surely changing. Mama is suffering from early onset dementia, a condition mistakenly attributed to the elderly, but debilitating to any aged person.
Mama’s ability to reason and remember, rationalise and recognise is diminishing but as her family and brood of chooks is about to discover, her love remains steadfast and strong.
Despite not being fluent in cackleberry, Mama soon develops a fondness for the new backyard girls. She loves the way their feathers shimmer in the sunlight. She feels content in their company and takes heart in their cheeky antics. So enamoured is she by them, that she even gives them names. Chooky La La is her favourite. And just like her two sweet children, the chooks follow Mama around; faithful, doting, trustful companions even when she forgets exactly where it is she’s going.
Some days though, Chooky La La spends in hiding, far away from Mama’s sudden cranky outbursts because like kids, chooks don’t always understand when or why voices are raised for no apparent reason. Other days, Mama’s voice doesn’t come at all. It doesn’t matter though because the bond Mama has with her chickens is tighter than a mother’s hug. Well, almost.
Here in lies the beauty of this metaphor between Mama’s chickens and her own little human brood. Despite the wanning of Mama’s abilities, the intangible force of her love and devotion for her family never dwindles. Not one little bit. Through it all, she endeavours to ‘show’ them just how much she loved them; a sentiment that ensures they never forget her and the power of her love. ‘Showing’ equates to Mama’s altered ways of communicating with her brood. In one spread we see her concentrating on crafting with her children, drawing and colouring – an activity that promotes inclusiveness but also suggests this is now an easier way for her to connect with her children. Of course, neither chook nor child mind.
This tale might have wept with candied sentimentality but thanks to Worthington’s considered, unadorned narrative and Johnston’s unobtrusive, gentle water-coloured renditions of this family’s home and backyard, the story chimes with honesty and hope. We are swept along in Mama’s wave of love, ebbing and flowing with her decline, able to distinguish the swell of everyone’s conflicting emotions and ultimately, feel the love. Even small children not versed in metaphoric expression will grasp this intent.
Mama’s Chickens drew me in for a number of reasons, not least of which is a strong affection for chooks but also because I do know those who’ve suffered from this condition. Now I know two more; Mama and Michelle herself. That she has translated her own experiences into a picture book that makes understanding about this disease more accessible to youngsters and their families is further testimony to the tenacious fortitude Michelle possesses. Mama’s Chickens and its ensuing conversations should easily find a home on classroom, bedroom and care giving environment bookshelves.
Title: Mama’s Chickens
Author: Michelle Worthington
Illustrator: Nicky Johnston
Publisher: EK Books, $24.99
Publication Date: 1 March 2023
For ages: 3 – 9
Type: Picture Book
For another insightful picture book title, look for, Dancing With Memories by Sally Yule and Cheryl Orsini. This one is about Lucy who lives with dementia and was co-created with Professor Ralph Martins and Maggie Beer. A book that is both practical and inspiring.