Marvelous Middle Grade Monday - The Trouble With Chickens (A J.J. Tully Mystery)

Author: Doreen Cronin
Illustrator: Kevin Cornell
Publisher: Balzer & Bray (Harper Collins)
Release Date: March 1, 2011
Pages: 128
Ages: 7 to 10 years
Source: ARC from ALA Midwinter
Rating: Buy multiple copies...1 won't be enough for your school or library.

Description from GoodReads:
J.J. Tully is a former search-and-rescue dog who is trying to enjoy his retirement after years of performing daring missions saving lives. So he’s not terribly impressed when two chicks named Dirt and Sugar (who look like popcorn on legs), along with their chicken mom, show up demanding his help to track down their missing siblings. Driven by the promise of a cheeseburger, J.J. begins to track down clues. Is Vince the Funnel hiding something? Are there dark forces at work—or is J.J. not smelling the evidence that’s right in front of him?

Doreen Cronin is well known for her numerous picture books - Click, Clack, Moo; Duck for President; Rescue Bunnies; and The Diary of a Fly are just a few of her titles.  With The Trouble With Chickens, Cronin is making a leap into the world of chapter books or what I might refer to as early Middle Grade.  Though the book's marketing page indicates that the book is for Grades 3 to 7 (or ages 8 to 12), I would suggest that the book will appeal the most to children 7 to 10.  This actually excites me because where I can find numerous books that are perfect for children 9 to 12 there seems to be a void of excellent stories geared for that more diverse range of reading abilities that you may find in younger children.  However, I believe Cronin has nailed it with The Trouble With Chickens, and with a subtitle of "A J.J. Tully Mystery" I am hoping that it means there will be future books with J. J. 

In The Trouble With Chickens, Cronin has developed a story around a former search and rescue dog named J.J.  who is currently in retirement and living on a farm.  J.J. is not particularly happy about this and even less happy when a "crazy chicken" named Millicent or whom he nicknames Moosh appears in his dog house.  Adults familiar with the 1940's-1950's film noir style and format will immediately pick up on the similarities between the book and a Philip Marlowe/Humphrey Bogart movie. Children may miss the style reference but they will enjoy the banter between J.J. and the chickens and J.J.'s narrations.  The story has great dialogue, humor, wonderful characters, and even a villain in Vince the Funnel, the dog living in the big house.  The sense of mystery and the fact that not everything is always as it seems lends just enough twists to keep children guessing as to what will happen to J.J. and the chickens.

Kevin Cornell's playful illustrations add a great touch to the book and bring the characters to life in a new way. 

I'm excited to have this book to share with students.  I already know that I will have a list of children waiting in line to check it out.  

For more information about Doreen Cronin, check out her website here.  For more information about illustrator, Kevin Cornell, check out his work here

Below is the official booktrailer for the book.  Listen to Doreen speak in detail about the film noir aspect of the book.

* Marvelous Middle Grade Mondays were started by Shannon over at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe. You can check out her Marvelous Middle Grade Monday choice and Giveaway Post here.