Fishing for Chickens: Short Stories about Rural Youth

Fishing for Chickens: Short Stories about Rural Youth

by Jim Heynen

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What is it like to grow up on a farm in the Midwest, on a ranch in the West, in the hills of the South, in the backwoods of New England, or on the wild Alaskan coast? In these seventeen short stories, some of our best writers take us into the lives of young people growing up in rural America to find out.
Sixteen poignant short stories portray the special


What is it like to grow up on a farm in the Midwest, on a ranch in the West, in the hills of the South, in the backwoods of New England, or on the wild Alaskan coast? In these seventeen short stories, some of our best writers take us into the lives of young people growing up in rural America to find out.
Sixteen poignant short stories portray the special experience of growing up in rural America. In this unique collection, sixteen writers, both established and new, take us to the backwoods, farmlands, mountains, and coastal regions of the USand into the lives of young people who are growing up there. Neither sentimental nor nostalgic, their richly plotted and poignant stories dispel the myth of the country idyll to reveal the tough realities of a rural childhood, as well as its rewards. In Rebecca Rule's "Walking the Trapline," a routine trek with her father and brother into the frigid New England woods becomes a test of survival for a young girl. "Sugar Among the Chickens" by Lewis Nordan, a comic tale, features a bored farm boy in Mississippi intent on catching a big rooster with a baited fishing line. When a flock of geese escapes the hunters' guns in North Carolinian writer Tony Earley's "Aliceville," a boy's disappointment is replaced by wonder as he realizes that their breathtaking passage overhead "made our world less small." The authors included are Pinckney Benedict, Nancy Brown, Nora Dauenhauer, Tony Earley, Eric Gansworth, Jim Heynen, Lewis Nordan, Tomas Rivera, Rebecca Rule, Wallace Stegner, Kathleen Tyau, Alma Villanueva, Jon Volkmer, Alice Walker, Vicky Wicks, and Hisaye Yamamoto. Whether rural native or lifelong urban dweller, every reader will come away from this collection with a deeper appreciation of the influence of place upon individual growth and of the special qualities of a country upbringing.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In his introduction, Heynen states: "I may not know everything about growing up rural, but I know rural folks have scars." This anthology of 17 stories set in country landscapes depicts not only physical scars but also injured or hardened spirits. Tim, the 12-year-old star of Jon Volkmer's "The Elevator Man," works on a grain elevator with deadly milo dust every day, while his mother lies in a hospital dying of cancer. The female narrator of "Burn Pile" by Nancy K. Brown helps her family incinerate the wreckage from a windstorm, but she allows the fire to get out of hand while tending a baby bird. Some of the most heartwrenching selections focus on relationships between protagonists and animals. In Vicky Wick's "I Have the Serpent Brought," a girl's dream of making pets out of a pair of fox cubs is dashed when her father decides that the animals are a potential threat to his chickens and shoots them. Similarly, in Wallace Stegner's "The Colt," a boy's desire to nurse a maimed colt back to health comes to a disastrous end when its wounds do not heal. While tragedies permeate the volume, there are also moments of celebration and growth as children become strengthened by the hardships they face. Readers who have experienced farm life first hand will best relate to the characters, but all will be touched by the cast's internal and external struggles. Ages 12-up. (July) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
"Let me see your scars," the editor asks of those who say they grew up in the country. The stories of rural childhood he has collected here include their share of scar-producing experiences—scars of the spirit and the flesh. The harsh behavior of many of the parents is necessitated by the family's tenuous hold on life. Keeping the injured colt that is put down in Wallace Stegner's story would endanger the whole farm. The father knows the cute baby foxes a girl wants to raise as pets in Vicky Wicks' "I Have the Serpent Brought" will grow up to raid the chicken coop. Her protests unavailing, she mutely accepts their death. Dirty, exhausting work makes up the lives of children in other stories. One of the most startling stories in the book is Jon Volkmer's "Elevator Man," in which the young boy's father intimidates him into cleaning out a huge silo of rotted milo in a way that endangers his life. Kathleen Tyau's story of canning pineapple in Hawaii emphasizes the killingly relentless pace of factory work on an island paradise. In Tomas Rivera's "The Salamanders," a migrant farm family is driven to the edge of despair by lack of employment and takes out their frustration in a slaughter of salamanders that are themselves seeking refuge from the rain. A few stories have a lighter tone. The witty little narrator of "Sugar Among the Chickens" whiles away his summer fishing for the family's barnyard chickens with corn as bait. But usually the lighter elements carry their shadows. The mother's efforts in haiku in Hisaye Yamamoto's "Seventeen Syllables" leads to a violent reaction by her unsympathetic husband, and a harmless white door-to-door salesman of cleaning supplies and children'strinkets is forced off an Indian reservation in "The Ralaigh Man." Some of the 17 items here are more sketches than stories, but each one gives vivid insights into rural life. Fishing for Chickens is the latest title in Persea Books' remarkable series devoted to the lives of young people. KLIATT Codes: JSA—Recommended for junior and senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2001, Persea, 177p., $8.95. Ages 13 to adult. Reviewer: Michael P. Healy; English Teacher, Wood River H.S., Hailey, ID , November 2001 (Vol. 35, No. 6)
The only time this city-bred reviewer visited a rural area was when a local milk-delivery service offered sanitized tours of its facilities—organized and risk-free. Heynen helpfully offers both urban and country readers a taste of rustic living in this collection of seventeen short stories, some no longer than two pages. They follow adolescent characters into a snowy trapping wilderness, along timeworn trails of migrant laborers, and through backwoods farmyards—with intrigue and trepidation. From established and award-winning authors, such as Alice Walker, Wallace Stegner, and Tomas Rivera, to first-time published Nancy K. Brown, storytellers reveal symbiotic and existential relationships with nature, whether unrelenting rains, frigid temperatures, harsh storms, horses, chickens, or baby vultures. The parenting styles in the different stories reflect the diversity of the landscapes as well as the complexities of family structures. A multicultural range and dynamic variety make this collection even more appealing. In Pinckney Benedict's powerful Miracle Boy, a rural setting highlights the isolation and bullying of a boy whose feet are severed in a farming accident. The collection takes its name from Mississippi bard Lewis Nordan's poignantly humorous story Sugar Among Chickens, in which the narrator shares bait, hook, and pole tips for fishing in the chicken yard. Wonderfully engaging, appealing to both male and female readers, this praiseworthy collection provides a useful addition to contemporary literature studies, to social studies segments on life in diverse rural geographies, and to creative writing classes—with the bonus of being an enjoyable read. VOYA CODES: 5Q4P M J S (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2001, Persea Books, 192p, $19.95. Ages 11 to 18. Reviewer: Patti Sylvester Spencer
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up-A collection of stories that captures the richness of a varied American landscape. Some settings, such as a bitterly cold New England woods, a southern farm, and a ranch, are predictable and familiar; others carry readers to unexpected destinations and new worlds of experience: the Alaskan coastline, a Hawaiian pineapple cannery, and an Indian reservation. Each protagonist is a young person learning lessons of life particular to the country. "You gotta' have guts, skill, and smarts livin' in the country," Meg's father tells her in Nancy Brown's "Burn Pile." What binds the stories together is the strong connection the main characters have with the natural world. Given the playful, perhaps misleading, title, readers may be surprised that, with few exceptions, the stories are somber, sometimes violent, reflecting real experiences of young people. The cover illustration, however, foreshadows serious themes, with a brightly colored rooster about to chomp down on a fishing hook. Some authors are well known-Wallace Stegner ("The Colt") and Alice Walker ("The Flowers"). Most, however, are new, representing many different ethnic and racial groups: Tlingit, Mexican, Chicano, Japanese-American, African American. Heynen includes two of his own masterful stories. "What Happened During the Ice Storm" is an image-rich, two-page story about boys who feel unexpected pity for helpless pheasants and are moved to rescue rather than torment or hurt them. This is an important collection of previously published short stories brought together to develop a theme from diverse points of view. It breaks many of the stereotypes about what it means to grow up in rural America. Without exception, the stories are strong.-Lee Bock, Glenbrook Elementary School, Pulaski, WI Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

Persea Books
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.50(d)
Age Range:
12 Years

Meet the Author

Jim Heynen is the author of two story collections, The One-Room Schoolhouse and The Boys' House, as well as two novels for young adults, Cosmos Coyote and William the Nice and Being Youngest. He lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, and teaches writing at Olaf College.

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