Thursday 29 July 2021

Catch That Chicken! - Guest Blog Post from Atinuke

Today we welcome Atinuke onto Picture Book Party to talk about her new picture book, Catch That Chicken! illustrated by Angela Brooksbank.

Lami loves chickens. She's the best chicken catcher in the village. She's fast, she's brave, and she always catches that chicken. Until the day she chases one-up the baobab tree, slips ... and falls. How can she catch chickens with a sore ankle? Could there be another way to catch that chicken?

Told with great humour by Nigerian storyteller, Atinuke, this story of the headstrong, impetuous Lami will strike a chord with all children. The gentle message – to use quick thinking, not just quick running – gives an incredibly satisfying ending, while Angela Brooksbank's beautiful artwork captures the energy and the beauty of the West African setting perfectly.

Atinuke on Catch That Chicken!

Once upon a time, a nine-year-old Scottish-Kenyan girl called Imani came across my No.1 Car Spotter books and loved them! She loved them so much that she had an idea of her own.

Once upon a time, there was a Hay Festival in Nairobi and the publisher Muthoni Garland hosted some of the authors who came to the festival in her house in Nairobi.

Thanks to book festivals, curious readers get to meet the people who write their favourite books, hungry readers get to discover new authors, and solitary authors get to meet the people who appreciate their lonely efforts.

And there is something else that happens - something that happens at all book festivals - something wonderful - authors get to meet other authors. Or, in this case, the daughter of another author.

Once upon a time, on the dark landing of a house in Nairobi, coming out of my bedroom door, I bumped into the author and storyteller Mara Menzies and her daughter Imani. And Imani told me her idea.

The idea of a No.1 Chicken Chaser.

This, Imani thought, was what I should write next, stories about a girl who had as much fun and as many adventures as the No.1 Car Spotter and who was No.1 at chasing chickens!

I loved the idea of a chicken chaser, and so began the years of lonely work that grew into a picture book called Catch That Chicken!

It is not a big surprise that I loved the idea of a book about chickens. I am a big fan of chickens. In fact, I once had so many chickens (forty) that my nieces and nephew call me Aunty Chicken! (I never intended to have forty chickens. I started with seven, but they kept laying eggs under thorny bushes, sitting on those eggs, and long after I had lost all hope of ever seeing them again, emerging with twelve little chicks!)

My niece Lani-Grace loved to chase those chickens. She would see a chicken, be gripped by the desire to cuddle it and the chase was on! She would creep up on them stealthily, pounce on them frantically, or simply run after them hither and thither - until she finally had them grasped firmly in her arms with her face buried in their feathers.

Lami, the main character of Catch That Chicken!, is of course based on Lani-Grace. The aunties and uncles Lami is surrounded by are inspired by my own aunts and uncles who, for better and for worse, took as much interest and involvement in raising me as my own parents did.

Nana Nadia is inspired by my own grandmother. My grandmother ruled our whole huge family with equal parts ferocity and love. She had no patience for people crying when they could solve their problems with just a little thought.

In the days of zoom, so much has been gained, and so much has been lost. Like chance meetings on dark landings in cool houses in hot cities. Like authors conspiring with other authors. And the chance to chase your aunty's chickens.

Luckily there is the book Catch That Chicken! that we can hold firmly in our hands, proof that all those things are possible and will happen again soon.

A special thanks to our guest this week, Atinuke!
Catch That Chicken! is now available in paperback from all good booksellers.