The Hoboken Chicken Emergency by Daniel and Jill Pinkwater is a fun Thanksgiving book that your students might have seen as a TV special. It makes a terrific read aloud for elementary through middle school, with grades 3-4 as the epicenter, if you will, of enjoyment.
Arthur Bobowicz is sent out to get his family’s Thanksgiving turkey, but ends up with a live, 266 pound chicken bred by a mad scientist called Professor Mazzocchi. It’s the sort of thing that might happen to anyone, but it leads to complications. Arthur keeps the chicken as a pet, names her Henrietta, and trains her, as you can see in the video clip above. When Henrietta proves to be an inconvenient pet and has to be returned to Professor Mazzocchi, she ends up loose on the streets, scaring people in scenes reminiscent of Godzilla or King Kong. Arthur accepts the situation until the town hires a chicken hunter who sets a trap for Henrietta. When the trap fails, Professor Mazzocchi reenters the story and kicks off a “Love Henrietta” campaign to tame the chicken and endear her to the town. The campaign is successful, and by Christmas Henrietta is back with Arthur as his pet.
Read the story. There are 14 chapters, but some are very short, so this could be a daily after-lunch reading for two weeks. As you enjoy the story, try out some of these activities and discussion questions:
- Arthur lives in an urban neighborhood with lots of immigrants and some interesting shops. Compare Arthur’s shopping experience to your students’ experiences of grocery shopping. Do they visit special markets like the Indian spice shop Arthur visits? If you’re studying immigration as part of your Thanksgiving lessons, this is a nice connection.
- Hoboken is a real town. Visit Hoboken’s website to get a sense of the place.
- The family ends up eating meatloaf for Thanksgiving dinner, since Arthur wasn’t able to acquire a turkey. As it happens, the family doesn’t really like turkey, but they always have it for Thanksgiving because it’s traditional. Discuss students’ Thanksgiving traditions.
- In chapter 4, Professor Mazzocchi explains how he breeds rectangular goldfish. Use the process to practice writing step by step directions or making flowcharts.
- Professor Mazzocchi also explains that “Fish do not like to think about things they don’t understand.” Is this true of people? We’ve found that some people like it and others say it makes their heads feel as though they’re about to explode. This is a nice question for a reflective essay.
- In chapter 6, Arthur nearly catches Henrietta, but he is in a place where he is forbidden to go, and his father finds him. Arthur doesn’t ask his father to help him get Henrietta, for fear of getting into trouble and because he’s already sure that his father won’t help. Discuss other choices Aurthur might have made.
- Arthur has to go on a family visit during the Thanksgiving break, and when he comes back, the situation has gone from being a tough break for Henrietta to being an emergency for the town of Hoboken. Discuss with students what constitutes an emergency, and what plans and systems are in place for emergencies in your classroom, school, and town.
- Henrietta is one 266-pound chicken standing six feet tall, but soon news reports are announcing that witnesses have seen lots of 1,000 pound chickens standing 15 feet tall. Two things are going on here. First, rumors grow as they spread. Second, people in general are terrible at estimating sizes. Experiment with this by choosing a pet or stuffed animal and measuring its height and weight accurately. Take a photo and print out copies for each student. Have students interview five people each and get their estimates of the size of the creature. Graph your results.
- This book was written in 1977. The rumor about the chicken spreads by radio in chapter 7. How would it spread today? Have students create a script for the medium they choose: perhaps a succession of TikTok posts or Facebook updates or TV news flashes.
- The town hires a Chicken Hunter whose web address is badfowl.com. Have students use information from the book to create a homepage for www.badfowl.com, the website of Anthony DePalma, Chicken Hunter. Students can do this on paper or in your class’s graphics program, but it would also be an excellent opportunity to learn some new tech skills by building a webpage.
- Arthur tries to find Henrietta himself over the Thanksgiving break without getting help. The police and the chicken hunter try to track her down and capture her, without success. Then the whole town gets involved in the “Love Henrietta” campaign, with positive results. Have students identify the steps of the campaign, and discuss why it worked. Have students brainstorm other possible solutions to the problem.