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Kate Douglas Wiggins' Mother Carey's Chickens may not be as widely read as some of Wiggin's other favorites, such as Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm and The Bird's Christmas Carol, but Mother Carey's Chickens is arguably her most delightful book.
Wiggin draws on concepts in Charles Kingsley's The Water Babies (published in 1863), in which old beasts are turned to new, and in which stormy petrels (i.e., chickens) rescue good birds and show them the way home. Mother Carey's Chickens is a book primarily about the riches of a real home.
Widowed at 40, and with four chickens of her own as well as a dependent niece, Mother Carey finds the family fortune has been lost because of a bad investment in a brother-in-law's failing business. At the suggestion of her daughter, Nancy, the family rents a vacant house once visited during a summer vacation. And so it is that the yellow house in Beulah, with the red rambler rose twining by the veranda, becomes the protection and focus of the Carey brood.
The family ranges in age from 6 to 15, and includes bright Nancy, maturing Gilbert, pretty Kitty, innocent Peter, and peevish niece Julia. The charismatic Careys throw the rural town in central Maine for a loop with their winsome, traveled ways and delightful schemes. And, as the story progresses, they reach out through simple acts of love to brighten even faraway lives.
Wiggin's deft humor keeps the sentimental aspects of the book well in line. It is sweet, but never cloying. The family solves its problems by make-do and mend, by good humor and industry. Wiggin hits the mark right down to dealing with unwanted gifts and presents from the family's only well-to-do relative.