This, my fifteenth Goosebumps entry (Dang, I’ve been slow covering this series), is dedicated to my boy Michael at the Goosebumps Fandom. Chicken Chicken is his favorite book in the series, and I told him I would cover it next.
What is interesting is the general consensus would probably consider this the worst Goosebumps book in the original series. I have read and seen a lot of flack for it. It is flack I understand, because I, personally, do not have fond memories of reading it as a kid, and to be honest, I was actually kind of dreading reading it as an adult before I started it last night. Reading it as an adult, however, I have to say, Chicken Chicken is not altogether bad. The Barking Ghost is easily worse than this book. I think the issue with this entry in the series is there is so much in it to not like. I’m being confusing, I know. I’ll get into it further in Analysis.
There is only one cover to discuss because, unsurprisingly, this book was not given a Classic Goosebumps re-release. I am fine with that, however, because I think this cover is awesome. I like the look of fear on Crystal’s face. I like the oddity of the whole thing as well. This cover would (and did) draw me in as a kid. I like the vibrant blue colors. I like the simple setting behind Crystal. I like how her foot is raised, like she’s walking toward the reader. This cover is creepy and beautiful at the same time. As Tyra Banks would say on America’s Next Top Model, this cover is ugly pretty. It really is, and I think it’s a good thing.
Tagline: It’s a finger lickin’ nightmare!
I’m not hating this tagline because it suits this book. The problem is, it suits it for all the wrong reasons. It’s disgusting. It (the idea of cannibalism) is in my opinion too mature for the audience for which this book was intended. Had this book been written for young adults, possibly as a Fear Street title, I think the tagline would be perfect.
Crystal and her brother Cole hate chickens. When Crystal and Cole were two and four, their parents chased their dreams to live on a farm and own chickens. Crystal and Cole are largely responsible for caring for the chickens: feeding them and rounding them up when needed. They argue about who has to do what for the chickens and when, as would be expected of siblings in this situation. There is a lot of “I did it last time! It’s Cole’s turn!” as you can imagine.
One day while their parents are out, Crystal, who is supposed to be looking after her brother, loses track of Cole and goes into town to look for him. We are introduced to some townspeople like the local baker. The most important townsperson we meet, however, is a woman named Vanessa, the town witch. Crystal isn’t certain that Vanessa is a witch; it’s just in the rumor mill because Vanessa has long black hair, dresses in all black, and wears black lipstick and fingernail polish. So gothic personal style equals witch. Got it. It’s rumored that Vanessa turned a kid’s head into a balloon and his family had to move as a result.
Despite the perceived danger, or maybe because of the perceived danger, the kids in town like to play pranks on Vanessa, and in front of Vanessa’s property is where Crystal finds Cole along with his friend Anthony, and two other characters whose names I can’t be bothered to remember because they are not mentioned again after this scene. The two characters whose names are unimportant to me have been dared to pour water in Vanessa’s mailbox, and because it’s a dare, they must do it. There’s a lot of, “should we do it?” “this is a bad idea,” and such, and at one point Cole even says he will do it, but the two unimportant characters make it to Vanessa’s porch and manage to get one pitcher of water in her mailbox before Vanessa comes out, glares at the kids, and scares everyone off.
Crystal and Cole make it home, where Crystal manages to slam her fingers into the refrigerator door. This, naturally, is suspected to be Vanessa’s fault. Crystal thinks she might be cursed. Crystal has nightmares about Vanessa after this, and Cole adds fuel to the fire by creeping into Crystal’s room while she’s asleep dressed in a black dress and vail to make Crystal think she’s getting a visit from Vanessa. Goosebumps kids go all out for the sake of a prank.
Shortly after, Crystal and Cole are in town with Cole’s friend Anthony shopping for a present for one of Crystal’s friends’ thirteenth birthday party. Cole and Anthony are playing a game of catch with a raw egg. In the excitement, the trio run into Vanessa exiting the grocery store and cause her to drop all of her groceries. Anthony quickly apologizes and then runs off. Crystal and Cole just stand there gaping at the mess. Vanessa looks at them with stone-cold eyes and whispers, “Chicken chicken.”
And now we’ve encountered the evil of the book. Crystal and Cole slowly turn into chickens for the remainder of the book. Crystal’s lips harden into a beak, Crystal and Cole start growing feathers, Cole can’t stop clucking, and the two even bend over and eat seed off the ground during a chicken barbecue their parents are having.
Turning into chickens naturally ruins their lives. Crystal has to make a mad dash out of her friend’s birthday party after noticing her beak, Cole clucks during his solo during chorus rehearsal, and Crystal practically does the chicken dance during an important basketball game in which she is finally given a chance to prove herself on the court.
The kids try to fight the changes happening to them, going as far as to pluck feathers painfully from each other’s bodies, just for them to grow back. It was so painful to read. They even try to tell their mother about what is happening to them, but she is so preoccupied with her barbecue that she brushes them off. And the Goosebumps Worst Parent Award goes to…
Crystal and Cole eventually figure out they need to return to Vanessa’s house. They notice some books, assume they are spell books, and sneak inside to steal one. They make it all the way home with a book when Crystal realizes the book she grabbed is a chicken recipes book. This is pretty much just a page padder to increase the length of the book.
They make it back to Vanessa’s and find an actual magic book with a Human to Chicken spell. It’s interesting and funny to me because Vanessa didn’t read a complex spell to turn the kids into chickens. She just pointed at them and said, “Chicken chicken.” Whatever. Let’s go with it. Cole theorizes they need a Chicken to Human spell, and since that is lacking in the book, Crystal decides to read the Human to Chicken spell and perform it backwards. In doing so, she first turns her brother and her into giant chickens, and then doing it a second time, she turns them into baby chicks. Vanessa has a cat who toys around with Crystal, but Vanessa comes in before the cat can eat Crystal. Vanessa picks the chicks up and says, “You must be Crystal and Cole,” and laughs at them. Crystal, who can only cluck by this point, dives off Vanessa’s hand onto her typewriter and types out an elaborate apology.
Vanessa tells her she appreciates the apology, but that it is too late and nothing can be done. Crystal types another message thanking her for the lesson she taught them. At this, Vanessa is overwhelmed with happiness at the idea of a thank you note. It’s so polite, and Vanessa is a stickler for manners. That was the issue in the first place. While their friend Anthony was with them when they knocked into Vanessa and made her spill her groceries, Anthony apologized before running off while Crystal and Cole just stood there.
Vanessa turns Crystal and Cole back into themselves and offers the kids some soda, acknowledging the ordeal she put them through. Crystal and Cole drink the soda, and then Cole lets out a burp and laughs. The burp is so funny to Crystal that she can’t help but laugh as well.
Disgusted, Vanessa points at the kids and says, “Pig pig.”
I’m shaking my head right now after writing that last sentence.
As I wrote at the beginning of this post, this book isn’t all bad, but there is a lot not to like. Most of this had to do with the audience.
The audience for a Goosebumps book is between 4th and 7th grade depending on reading level. I think that should be heavily considered when you pick up any book for an adolescent or child. The problem with this book is that a parent or reader might assume that the content in it is suitable for its audience, and much of the content in this book is not.
The scenes where Crystal is plucking feathers from Cole’s skin, plucking feathers from her own, or trying to tear off the beak growing over her lips is straight up torture porn. It’s painful to read, and I can see it being scarring for a kid. There is nothing wrong with this technique in horror, and it’s done a lot in content targeted toward adults. I think of the Saw and Hostel film series, and books like Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door or Off Season. Many people can handle and enjoy fiction that uses this technique, but a fourth or fifth grader should not be subjected to it. I think Chicken Chicken would have been much better executed and much better accepted as a Fear Street novel because that series is targeted toward young adults. I think those readers can handle the feather plucking.
Another mature theme brought up in this children’s book is cannibalism. While turning into chickens, Crystal and Cole are subjected to their mother barbecuing chicken. They discuss how gross the idea of eating chicken, or seeing raw chicken pieces sitting on the counter is to them. This is absolutely creepy and interesting, and it fits well in a horror novel, but again, not one intended for fourth through seventh graders.
The problem with Chicken Chicken being a Fear Street title is it lacks the depth we’d expect in a novel targeted toward young adults or older adolescents. That’s the conundrum of the book: Chicken Chicken is too mature to be a Goosebumps book and too shallow to be a Fear Street book. We learn almost nothing about Vanessa, the most interesting character in the book. What I know about her is that she is a stickler for manners and turns Crystal and Cole into chickens (and then pigs) because they lack manners. That is literally all we get about her. Where is her history? Where is her motivation for being so hard on manners? With this information, the book would be much stronger. At 113 or so pages, I get Stine did not have a lot of room to develop Vanessa, but maybe he could have spent less time plucking feathers from the protagonists and more time developing the novel’s most interesting character. As a Fear Street book, Stine would have had more room to develop Vanessa. That is something this book could have definitely benefitted from.
Chicken Chicken’s setting is definitely the strength of this book. I really liked reading Crystal’s walk through town and meeting some of the villagers, most of which did not have a role in the plot. It is a rich setting I can vividly see in my head, and Stine did not hold back on the details. I think Chicken Chicken has one of the strongest settings in the Goosebumps series.
As I wrote above, I would have loved to learn more about Vanessa. Her being a stickler for manners felt shallow and uninteresting. I really feel like Stine missed a big opportunity with Vanessa.
The kids, however, were great characters. Crystal and Cole have unique personalities that are consistent throughout the book, they have their own interests and motivations, and they are believable 12 and 10 year-olds.
My final assessment of this book is that targeted toward a mature audience and more developed, Chicken Chicken would have been great. The writing was not bad at all; I really enjoyed the setting and the characterization of the protagonists. Reading it as an adult, I did not hate it, but I wished there was more depth. Reading it as a kid, I remember being freaked out. Chicken Chicken is stuck in a really bad place between children and young adult or adult fiction.
Reader beware… I’d avoid this one for its issues with audience. Sorry, Michael.