One night about three years ago when Jake was five, I was settling him to sleep with a book about Chicken Licken. I hadn’t met her before but Jake knew her well. When we got to the end of the book and he asked for another story, I was too tired to fetch another book, and didn’t want to disturb his sleepy state, so I made up a variation on this theme. We lay with our eyes closed, imagining. Taking the character’s name in vain, we casually began to invent life situations and adventures for Chicken Licken.
“Chicken Licken goes to school” was the first scenario. She sat at a desk, learned to write letters and was let out at playtime. Although Jake enjoyed this, gradually we wanted something more exciting to happen to our hen.
Chicken Licken learns to read, goes on holiday, (packs her suitcase, takes the bus), learns to ski, takes flying lessons, becomes a pilot, goes to the dentist, speaks French, joins the choir, borrows library books, plants vegetables in her garden, takes up carpentry and sailing, hosts a birthday party, tells off the noisy geese, looks for fossils, buys a metal detector, gets an iPod for her birthday, has her tonsils out, gets a new hutch with curtains and a reclining chair, and so on. Whenever Jake stays overnight he is eager to hear what Chicken Licken is up to next. If I’m really tired he tells me the story. I rarely write fiction, and failed to make up original children’s stories for my five sons and twelve grandchildren, but Chicken Licken is an inspiration. Now I realize I was just a storyteller in search of a character.
Even when Chicken Licken took up knitting and used chopsticks, Jake never questioned her lack of hands. He knows when I’m kidding, and goes along with it. She used crutches when she hurt her foot. Somehow she managed to water ski and shoot hoops. She baked pies and cakes for the farm animals, dispensed wisdom to less intelligent creatures, punished those who failed to help her clean the kitchen by not sharing her ice cream and generally displayed remarkable character and authority. You could say she ruled the roost.
This week Chicken Licken became a guru. She was given an electronic DS for her birthday and became addicted to playing with it for hours on end (just like Jake). A brain specialist cautioned her that playing for more than half an hour at a time causes her brain to speed up and get super excited, which is not good for her. Apparently lots of chickens in America are being diagnosed as hyperactive or ADD because their brains are over stimulated. “I’m addicted,” admitted Jake. Well, Chicken Licken advised him not to play without a break for more than half an hour, and to limit this activity to three times a day, so his brain would not become too excited.
Next morning Jake kept starting and stopping his DS when he knew I was looking, but I said to him “This is something for which you must use self-discipline. Just know that it’s bad for you in excess and stop for a rest, when you remember.” (Chicken Licken can’t be there all the time.) He nodded.
Jake is already a straight A student at school with a reading age four grades ahead of his years, so Chicken Licken doesn’t need to remind him to do his homework, but later on I anticipate she may mention the facts of life and invite discussion about all sorts of hazards that concern a growing chicken. Occasionally she tells a joke. She’s a great role model and as long as he keeps on asking for her stories, I’ll keep telling ‘em.