One Hen

One Hen
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A picture book that illustrates daily life in Ghana, alongside explaining the concept of micro-loans to build small businesses. Not your average bedtime story, but an uplifting and encouraging read, perfect for extending world views. Recommended for ages 5-11.

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The exciting event of our week has been the arrival of four chickens to occupy our newly built chicken tractor. Action Man and I have spent many hours over the last few days watching our chickens settle in. As we try to figure out which is which (Mrs Underbite and Mrs OrangeLegs), learn about pecking order (Mrs BossLady), and try to save one sick hen (Mrs Four is looking much better today. She may yet receive a real name).

Action Man likes to start his days early, perhaps he believes that the early bird catches the worm. This means that he would like me to be loving and play with him as soon as his 6am curfew release rolls around. We have compromised to the point that he now bring his choice of stories to my bed and pulls my eyelids open (truly, do other Mums experience this joy?) so I can read to him.

He found a book this week that I had forgotten about. One Hen tells the story of a boy, Kojo, growing up in Ghana with his mother. Unable to afford schooling, Kojo’s Mum commits to a village loan scheme, whereby each family takes a turn to purchase something to improve their lot.

Kojo’s mother buys a cart, but there is a little loan money left, and Kojo purchases his own hen. With this one hen he is able to improve both the health of his family (they each eat one egg a week), and their finances (as he sells the other three eggs).

As he continues to sell eggs he is able to buy more chickens, and soon he can afford to return to school. Eventually he is able to purchase a chicken farm, employ others and make a difference to the whole community. The book even covers how this makes a difference to the whole country as each of the employees and the supporting businesses pay tax.

A rare topic to see in a picture book. I like how it uses a story to illustrate the process of micro-enterprise loans and the difference that they can make. At the conclusion of the story, there is an article about a real Ghanaian boy who through chickens and a loan made a future for himself and his community. The book also has a website that helps explain more about micro-finance loans.

My second favourite thing about this book is the glimpse it provides into everyday life in an African village.

“On market day he walks among the stalls of fruit, vegetables, meats, kente cloths and calabash bowls. He finds a good place to set down his small basket and calls out for customers.”

The illustrations deserve a review of their own. Very vibrant and imaginative. They show many parts of daily life, from mud huts to markets, from cassava to soccer. The Young Engineer thought the pictures were “crazy funny” as they are also depict Kojo’s hope for the future. The classroom is pictured with the children sitting on a giant textbook. There are giant chickens in dresses, working alongside Ghanaian baby-wearing mothers in the market. Action Man (nearly 3yo) liked the pictures and always likes a good story, but I’m not sure how much he understood. He did lie pretty still for the duration which for him is a pretty good indication of his attention being caught. Unfortunately he took exception to the word “hen”, so every time it occurred he had to correct me, “You mean chicken, Mum?” The word hen is in this book a lot!

one hen

A word of warning though, the content is great, the pictures full of life and the glimpse of African life engaging, this is not the ideal book to have your eyelids opened to first thing in the morning. There are a lot of words in this for a picture book. To start the day I generally prefer a book that I have already partially memorised so I don’t need to keep my eyes too open (thank you Little Yellow Digger).

For this reason I would recommend this book as a brilliant family read-aloud for over fives. In fact many of the concepts in this book would be great to start conversations with a 10-year-old. It depicts such a different culture to our own, where moving from a mud hut to a cinder block home is a sign of success. To learn the difficulty in improving your situation when you truly have nothing. Another valuable lesson is understanding the difference between an investment loan to start a money-making business vs adverts in NZ for loans that encourage borrowing to take a holiday, upgrade a car or buy better Christmas gifts.

Right, time to head out into the cold and check on our four hens.  “You mean chickens, Mum!”

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