Free Rain written by Daniel Wentzel, illustrated by José Lucio
Spring thunderstorms have kept the chickens cooped up (no pun intended!). When the blue chicken overhears words that sound like "free rain", he alerts the others. They remain unimpressed, seeing that rain has been dripping through their roof for days. But when they realize that Blue is out of his cage, they understand the words as "free range". The chickens are scared to leave their cozy coop and confront the wild world and large creatures that live in the barnyard beyond. But when their food supply stops coming to them, their hunger pushed them to leave the barn.
The concept of the story is nice, but it goes a little long, and lacks a nice punch at the end. The typography is excellent, though. Some words are placed in paragraphs like a typical book, but the exclamations and animals noises are written in a big font, almost scattered across the page. It was really engaging to go from more rigid text to words stretching across the spread.
The illustrations are gorgeous. The colors are vibrant, and the chickens are very expressive. Who knew a beak could convey so much emotion?! Lucio's collage style is amazing, from the way he uses sewn button holes for chicken eyes to the way you can practically feel the coop's dirt floor when you touch the page.
As far as age range, it was a little advanced for my three year old son. I think it's a good read for kindergarteners to second grade. The concept of "free range" and the chickens being nervous about exploring freedom is perfect for that age, as they adjust to relative freedom at school and with other transitions. But it's easily adaptable for younger readers. Each chicken is a different color, and it's fun to point out and name all the colors with a younger child. You can also identify the barn animals that poke their heads into the coop and scare the chickens, and make animal noises with younger children.
Disclaimer: The illustrator sent me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.