The Problem with Chickens

US, Houghton Mifflin
Iceland, Salka

Icelandic Title:
Hænur eru hermikrákur
translated by Sigurður A. Magnússon

Bruce's Forty-fourth
Children's Book

US - Houghton Mifflin
ISBN 0-618-58581-8

Iceland - Salka
Icelandic ISBN 9979-768-44-4
English ISBN 9979-768-33-9

September 2005 release from
Houghton Mifflin in the US
Click for US Catalogue Description

Late summer 2005 release from
Salka in Iceland
Visit Salka

Click for Icelandic Publisher's Home Page

Order an autographed copy from Bruce - click here

About the Art
Personal Note
Honors / Arwards Reviews
~ Two Stars ~

Visit Artist Gunnella's Web Site

Photographing a duckling in Iceland

Welcome to a village in the far end Iceland.

<> <> <> <> <> <> <> <> <> <> <> <> 

When the ladies in a small Icelandic village have no eggs for cooking, they solve their problem by getting some chickens. But when the chickens stop laying eggs, the ladies have to hatch a very clever plan to solve the problem with the chickens.

This original tale featuring Icelandic culture and traditions is sure to leave you smiling with admiration for these clever Icelandic ladies.

US Publisher's Catalogue Description

Back to the top

The ladies have a problem.

The ladies put their plan into action.

How the Cover
Came to Be

Read about and see
the cover being painted.

About the Cover


Look over her shoulder

The Ladies and Chickens Singing to the Sheep

See this Art
Start to Finish

See the Seven Stage Progress

See the Steps

<> <> <> <> <> <> <> <> <> <> <> <> 
Personal Note

This book marks a departure for my books to date. Until now, I have not illustrated my own work with anything else but my own photos. This book really began when I bought a painting in 2002 by an Icelandic artist, Gunnella, who I had yet to meet. The painting was titled "In Dreamland". A year later when I was in Iceland I had the opportunity to meet Gunnella and her husband, Siggi. We become dear friends.

Stepping out in a new direction
with fine art by a fine painter, Gunnella. March 2005, Gardabaer, Iceland

Gunnella's paintings have a narrative quality about them, and people always smile when viewing her art at an exhibition. I saw a book in them. With so many paintings with chickens I knew I could develop a story, I did and Gunnella liked it. Then Gunnella filled in the few gaps where we needed new art. Though humor fills her art, Gunnella is a serious painter, perhaps one of Iceland's finest present day artists, and I am honored that she has gone forward with our book.

Bruce and Gunnella
Author and Painter
Iceland 2004

Gunnella's husband, Siggi, came up with the plan for the author photo. So we went to the chicken farm just outside of Reykjavík, I set it up, and Siggi did the honors. But you didn't hear it from me that after we took this photo, Siggi took us just around the corner for lunch . . . at Kentucky Fried Chicken. Oh, how I treasure their friendship.

Jóhanna Malen Skúlisdótter,
a young Icelandic reader,
reflects on the girl in the painting
an almost mirror image of herself.

Back to the top

<> <> <> <> <> <> <> <> <> <> <> <> 
Honors and Awards
A Publishers Weekly Best Children's Book of 2005
The juxtaposition of McMillan's minimal deadpan text and Gunnella's comically literal paintings makes for some unlikely hilarity, as a group of women try to secure a reliable supply of eggs. Gunnella portrays buxom, Botero-like women, shadowed by chickens who mimic them as they drink tea and try out dance steps.

A New York Times Best Illustrated Book of 2005
Every year since 1952, the Book Review has asked a panel of judges to make a selection from among the several thousand children's books published that year to select the ten best illustrated books. The judges this year were Roger Sutton, the editor of The Horn Book magazine; Starr LaTronica, from the Four County Library System in Vestal, N.Y.; and Jules Feiffer, a writer and illustrator.

Read the NYT Review

A Parent's Choice Foundation Approved Picture Book for 2005.
The Parents' Choice Approved seals are given on the basis of the production, entertainment and human values they exemplify. A Parents' Choice Approved seal indicates a wholesome product that helps children enjoy developing physical, emotional, social or academic skills.

About the Parent's Foundation on their Site

<> <> <> <> <> <> <> <> <> <> <> <> 

School Library Journal
September, 2005
Star Review

"These spirited, buxom ladies and beguiling chickens will be remembered long after the book has been closed."

MCMILLAN, Bruce. The Problem with Chickens. illus. by Gunnella. 32p. CIP. Houghton/A Walter Lorraine Bk. Sept. 2005. Tr $16. ISBN 0-618-58581-8. LC, 2005001225.

K-Gr 3­Set in Iceland, this story is about a community off resourceful women who travel to the city to buy a flock of chickens so that eggs are plentiful in the village. However, the chickens run amok and begin to behave more like ladies than birds. Before long, they stop laying eggs. The resilient women develop a far-fetched plan to solve the problem and the merriment swells to a final, hilarious resolution. The playful text is both silly and joyous, without a wasted word. Gunnella's enchanting oil paintings are full of childlike humor and saturated with appealing primary colors. They convey emotion and absurdity with seemingly simple lines and expressive body language. These spirited, buxom ladies and beguiling chickens will be remembered long after the book has been closed. A funny and inventive choice that is also a charming tribute to Icelandic culture and tradition. ­ Mary Hazelton, Elementary Schools in Warren & Waldoboro, ME

This copyrighted © review originally appeared in School Library Journal and appears here with permission.

Publishers Weekly
August, 29, 2005
Star Review

"The juxtaposition of McMillan's minimal deadpan text and Icelandic artist Gunnella's comically literal paintings makes for some unlikely hilarity."

ISBN: 0618585818
Walter Lorraine Books
Published 2005-09
Hardcover, $16.00 (32p)
Juvenile Fiction | Animals | Birds
Ages: 05-08

The subject of McMillan's (Nights of the Pufflings) picture book--perhaps the first ever devoted to interactions between chickens and middle-aged women in an Icelandic village--might seem an uninteresting prospect on the face of it. But the juxtaposition of McMillan's minimal deadpan text (just one or two lines per page) and Icelandic artist Gunnella's comically literal paintings makes for some unlikely hilarity. The author relates the trials of a group of women as they try to secure a reliable supply of eggs. Native birds lay their eggs on inaccessible cliffs, so the female villagers buy chickens instead--but that's only the beginning of their problems. "The chickens forgot they were chickens. They started acting like ladies. When the ladies went to pick blueberries, the chickens went, too.... When the ladies sang to the sheep, the chickens sang, too." Gunnella supplies paintings of buxom, Botero-like women in black dresses, striped aprons and headscarves, shadowed by chickens who mimic them as they drink tea and try dance steps. When the chickens act more human than fowl, the ladies hatch a plan to make the chickens start laying eggs again, involving intensive pullet re-education and a pulley assembly, and both the ladies and the birds grow stronger and more indomitable in the process. Readers young and old will cheer their ingenuity--that is, when they aren't giggling. Ages 4-8. (Sept.)

This copyrighted © review originally appeared in Publishers Weekly, Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.and appears here with permission.

New York Times Book Review
November 13, 2005
Poultry in Motion

There may be a lot of chicken stories around, but how many are from Iceland?

For his 44th book for children, Bruce McMillan has found his first illustrator; his previous books, about nature, science and mathematical concepts, have all featured his own photographs alongside his texts. One of his best, "Nights of the Pufflings," followed a little girl on an Icelandic island as she rescued wayward puffin chicks.

Clearly enamored of the birds, the stark landscape and the Old World rhythms of Icelandic village life, McMillan was inspired by the oil paintings of the Icelandic artist Gunnella and made up a story around a set of them. Thus "The Problem with Chickens" takes place in a remote spot where Icelandic women work close to home while the men are off fishing and farming.

At the beginning of his tale, though, there are no chickens, just cliff-dwelling wild birds whose eggs are too hard to reach. Chickens are then bought in the city and taken to the countryside, but soon enough they grow so comfortable that they start behaving like the women who take care of them. Like the women, they go blueberry picking, they sing to the sheep, they even take rests (with their wings spread out) when the women take theirs. When they stop laying eggs, a solution has to be found.

McMillan's clever solution, involving greater physical fitness for everyone, is more than matched by Gunnella's illustrations. (She made additional paintings to fill out McMillan's story line.) Set against gorgeous blue skies and green fields, Gunnella's big, hearty women look like some of Henri Rousseau's portraits, with their folk-art flatness and decorative clothes patterns. A sweet sense of humor comes through in their poses, which sometimes look more natural on the chickens, and in their cheerful expressions.

Gunnella also plays with scale and color, so that the woman who goes off to buy the chickens rides on top of a horse approximately nine times her size. Best of all are those chickens, who pop up from odd angles on the pages, looking as if they're trying to get into the picture. They're clearly enjoying life, exercising, relaxing and even, ultimately, flying.

This copyrighted © review originally appeared in the New York Times Book Review.

September 15, 2005

"A simple, humorous tale about chickens with pretensions of becoming women."

McMillan, Bruce. The Problem with Chickens. Illus. by Gunnella. Sept. 2005. 32p. Houghton, $16 (0-618-58581-8).

PreS-Gr. 2. McMillan makes a successful departure from his many noted photo-essays, such as Nights of the Pufflings (1995). Sticking to a bird theme, he has created a simple, humorous tale about chickens with pretensions of becoming women. The village ladies become frustrated because they cannot reach the eggs the wild birds lay on the sides of cliffs. Little do they suspect that the chickens they buy in town will hatch a new set of problems. The hens decide to do everything the ladies do--pick blueberries, go to birthday parties, have tea, and so on--until they are too busy to lay eggs. A fine artist and first-time children’s book illustrator, Gunnella makes the transition to picture books quite well: the rotund ladies and irrepressible hens, portrayed in flat, colorful, thickly painted folk-art style, aptly complement the tone of the story. --Diane Foote

This copyrighted © review originally appeared in Booklist and appears here with their permission.

The Horn Book magazine
November/December 2005

"A delight to the eye, and the chickens are simply funny"

Bruce McMillan The Problem with Chickens; illus. by Gunnella
32 pp. Lorraine/Houghton 9/05 ISBN 0-618-58581-8 $16.00 (Preschool, Primary)

When a group of Icelandic ladies import some chickens--they need eggs in order to make their delicious cakes--the chickens inexplicably begin imitating them and neglect their egg-laying duties; so the ladies devise a solution involving exercise, cliffs, and ropes and pulleys. Although the plot is tenuous, to say the least, it hangs together just barely enough to provide a raison d'etre for the distinctive pictures. Illustrator Gunnella is an Icelandic Dayal Kaur Khalsa--her folk-art-inspired oil paintings have verve, vibrancy, and humor. The compositions and colors are a delight to the eye, and the chickens are simply funny, whether peeping out from the foliage as they interrupt the ladies' teatime or pushing heavy boulders around as they strengthen their wings. Martha V. Parravano

This copyrighted © review originally appeared in The Horn Book Magazine and appears here with permission.

<> <> <> <> <> <> <> <> <> <> <> <> <> <> <> <> <> <> <>