Tillie Lays An Egg
By Terry Golson and Ben Fink
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See Terry's Hens live
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Scholastic’s Spring Chickens
By John A. Sellers, Children's Bookshelf -- Publishers Weekly, 12/18/2008
Chickens and hens are familiar sights in picture books, going all the way back to Chicken Little. But fictitious fowl will need to make room for some real hens, with next month’s publication of Terry Golson’s Tillie Lays an Egg (Scholastic Press). Though Golson has written several cookbooks over the years, including 1,000 Lowfat Recipes (Wiley) and The Farmstead Egg Cookbook (St. Martin’s), this marks her first book for children.
In the book, Tillie, an adventurous bantam White Leghorn, hunts for the perfect place to lay her eggs in and around Golson’s Massachusetts property—out in the garden, atop the breakfast table and in the laundry room, among other spots. Readers are prompted to find where the egg is hidden on each page, as Tillie’s fellow hens look on.
Golson’s hens have already spent some time in the public eye, thanks to her Web site The HenCam, which she has operated since 2005. The Web cam on the site offers a peek into the lives of the chickens (and a rabbit) she and her family keep in their hen house at their home outside Boston. The HenCam also features Golson’s blog about her experiences keeping hens, and attracts more than 10,000 unique visitors each month. “A lot of people who work in cubicles watch the HenCam and tell me it saves their sanity,” says Golson.
The author had been involved with a writers’ group for several years before she thought about writing a children’s book (she had joined to try to get outside what she calls her “food voice,” which she uses in her cookbooks). Following a successful session with photographer Ben Fink for Golson’s The Farmstead Egg Cookbook,the author began to brainstorm other ways to work with the award-winning food photographer. “I wanted to do more with him, but a cookbook wasn’t in sight,” she says. “Then the proverbial light bulb went off over my head. I had this vision of posing my hens in tableaux filled with vintage chicken tchotchkes.”
One of Golson’s agents (she has another for her cookbooks), Carrie Hannigan of Russell & Volkening, submitted the proposal to Scholastic. “[Terry] had a vision,” recalls David Saylor, v-p and associate publisher at Scholastic. “This one hen of hers had great personality, and she wanted to create this book around this chicken.” Saylor and Scholastic editor Kara LaReau liked the concept—“everyone loves chickens,” Saylor notes—and LaReau acquired the book in summer 2006.
Adding to the concept’s appeal was Fink’s photography, which Saylor calls “beautiful and moody,” as well as Golson’s extensive collection of chicken-related ephemera. “Anyone who has chickens will tell you that they are always being given chicken-themed objects, like oven mitts and memo holders,” Golson says. “I’ve tried, over the years, not to be overrun with the stuff, although there’s always been room for the special object.” (She adds that her collection “grew exponentially,” once she began collecting with the book in mind.)
The book’s photographs are filled with these items—which include tins, glassware, fabrics and board games—giving readers numerous details to pore over as they search for Tillie’s eggs. “We were going for a vintage ’40s or ’50s feel, which is where a lot of this ephemera is from,” says Saylor. “We tried to give it a sweet, charming Americana look.”
Scholastic is hoping that the photographs will help distinguish the book from illustrated farm- and chicken-themed titles for children on the market. But getting the perfect shot was not always easy. “It’s difficult to capture the one moment that needs illustrating in a way that’s not static,” Golson says. “Birds don’t have smiling mouths, etc., to convey expression. So we had to get that one fleeting moment when Snowball had exactly the right “eye,” was turned exactly the right way, [and] the lighting was just right.”
But Golson says that Tillie—Snowball in real life—was a good sport during the photo shoots (Scholastic renamed her for the book, to avoid giving it a seasonal-sounding title). “I had spent months training her to pose, so she was comfortable in all of the unusual situations,” Golson says, adding that positive reinforcement helped, too. “She got a lot of treats. Chickens are very food-motivated!”
Although Snowball/Tillie died this past year, as have some of the other hens featured in Tillie Lays an Egg, Golson maintains a practical outlook, noting that hens are not bred for longevity. “It’s great to have Ben’s photos to remember them by,” says the author. “But I have new hens that fill the coop with a lot of personality and activity.” Those include three new bantam White Leghorns, who Golson calls “the actresses who play Tillie.”
Golson is currently working on a few picture book ideas, including a possible follow-up to Tillie Lays an Egg, and her agent is shopping an adult novel (a romantic comedy) as well. And next spring, HenCam viewers could get a glimpse of two planned additions to Golson’s home—a pair of mini-goats. Says Golson, “I’m sure they’ll have adventures that will need telling.”
Egg-static Librarians Get Behind Tillie
This article originally appeared in SLJ's Extra Helping. Sign up now!
By Lauren Barack -- School Library Journal, 3/23/2009 2:05:00 PM
Librarians and teachers are in egg-stasy over Terry Golson’s new children’s book, Tillie Lays an Egg (Scholastic, 2009), and her hencam, which dovetails with the fanciful tale.
Educators are writing letters, logging on to see the “girls,” as Golson refers to her chickens, and even launching events, all meant to celebrate one chicken’s adventures as it literally flees the coop.
“There’s been a lot of spontaneity and fun around the book,” says Golson from her home in Carlisle, MA. “I think what they’re responding to is my sheer joy and love of my chickens.”
At the Chicago Ridge Public Library in Illinois, librarians are holding a month-long chicken fest they’ve tagged "Chick-It-Out," which ties into the book. There are crafts, contests, and the library is even planning to raise chicks (with its own webcam), which, if all goes well, should crack their way into the world around April 28th.
“I think this is the right book at the right time,” says Constance VanSwol, head of youth services at the library, who agrees that people are responding enthusiastically to the story. “I raised chickens when I was in high school in Minnesota. I think we all get nostalgic for what we did when we were young.”
Golson’s decision to write a book around her hens seemed only natural to her. As the author of The Farmstead Egg Cookbook (St. Martin's, 2006), she had an affinity for her feathered friends. Golson’s owned a brood of chickens, now numbered at 13, for the last 14 years. “I started with one lone, leftover 4-H project, a little white chicken,” says Golson. “But if you have only one chicken it gets lonely, so you have to get more.”
The hencam, which Golson says clocks between 10,000 to 15,000 unique visitors a month, actually outdates Tillie. Golson says her “nerd” husband started it four years ago when they moved to a bigger lot with electricity that ran to the barn.
Librarians are egg-static over Terry Golson’s new children’s book, Tillie Lays an Egg (Scholastic, 2009).
The Chicago Ridge Public Library’s event may be an elaborate celebration for one book—but VanSwol says it hasn’t proved expensive. By getting the eggs and incubator donated, VanSwol thinks they’re spending no more than about $100 for the remainder of the crafts and giveaways planned for the month. They’re also splurging for T-shirts that read, “Chick-It-Out,” which was a piece of fan love even Golson couldn’t pass up. For a T-shirt, she traded a signed copy of the book, which will go to a lucky patron.
Fans may have more to look forward to from Golson—although they might have to settle for a different farmland friend. New book ideas are already hatching, plus Golson plans to buy two goats, and her husband has promised a goatcam to follow.
But those wishing for another chicken fest may have to put that hope on simmer.
“Of the three children’s books that my agent is currently shopping around,” adds Golson, “two do not have chickens in them!”