Trouble in the Chicken House
by Jim Snyder
BookVenture Publishing

"While they watched, Rusty tapped Blue on the shoulder and said, 'Something must be done about this, otherwise it will keep going on.'"

Morality gets a new coat of fur in this story about bullies, friendship, and doing the right thing. Through an unlikely alliance and an unfortunate series of events, young readers get a taste of true heroism, the kind they can practice in their everyday lives.

Louie is a small and abandoned domestic dog who, hungry and alone, falls in with three wild dogs who bully and threaten him. When they demand he steal chickens from a local farm or suffer their beatings, he complies. However, living on the farm is an unlikely best friend duo of a fox and dog. They see the plight of Louie (and the chickens) and take justice into their own hands to punish the bullies and defend the little guy.

Kids understand the binary world of good guys and bad guys. Big bad wolves and wretched witches play clear opposites to the righteous characters they try—and ultimately fail—to harm, and the justice that fiction delivers is satisfying and fitting for young minds. Likewise, the punishment of the three dogs in this story offers a filling and necessary resolution to their bad behavior.

Comeuppance makes for a good ending. However, while kids’ stories succeed when they mete out the fitting combo of bad actions and consequences, authors must write to a narrow sweet spot between defanging evil and scaring kids silly. This story tips close to the latter scenario, with villains so menacing and abusive that they overstep imagined horror and cross right into harm. This isn’t a princess pricking her finger on a spindle and falling into a long nap, where pain and real fear are imagined but not explicitly rendered. This pack of bad dogs hurt Louie in realistic and detailed ways, and he suffers genuine pain and existential terror as a result.

In contrast to this most manipulative and false version of so-called friendship, where the pack trades on Louie’s vulnerability and desire to belong, the relationship between the farm’s fox and dog is a loving, trusting, and altruistic bond. Their loyalty to each other is so pure as to be a given, and their willingness to risk their safety to help a thief is admirable. They could easily have alerted the farmer or attacked Louie themselves, but, instead, they see his plight and express concern and action in response. Through these heroes, the book offers a thoughtful glimpse into a righteous thought path as the friends observe Louie and the dogs and slowly formulate a plan. While their progress may read as wordy and detailed to young readers accustomed to shorter narratives, they model the gravity of caring and the effort that goes into taking responsible, charitable action.

Kids are called upon every day to do the right thing. They observe and experience bad behavior, and they have the opportunity to react with indifference, complicity, or care. Stories like this one, which model right choices and tough action, have the potential to build the kinds of character and mettle that parents want for their children and the people they will become.

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