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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Irresistible: L. Frank Baum and chickens!

Photo of baby bantam citron-spangled hamburg chicks
 by Ryan Zierke under a Creative Commons license at Wikipedia.

Everybody (most everybody?) knows about Flannery O' Connor and chickens. And if you have read this blog for a very long time, you may remember that I have a chicken pact going with novelist Howard Bahr. But do you know about L. Frank Baum and chickens?

According to the spottily-all-knowing Wikipedia, Baum started a monthly journal in 1880 devoted to the subject of hamburg chickens (this is not a contradiction between types of meat but a single type.)  He loved his adorable hamburgs so much that he wrote an entire book on the subject, appropriately named . . . The Book of the Hamburgs! Okay, okay, it also had a fancy sub-title: A Brief Treatise upon the Mating, Rearing, and Management of the Different Varieties of Hamburgs.  These days Baum would over the moon somewhere in Oz to know that there are more Hamburgs that ever--silver-spangled, gold-spangled, golden-penciled, silver-penciled, white or black (so ordinary! I want magic pencils! and spangles!) and even a new citron-spangled bantam. A citron-spangled bantam: doesn't that sound impossible and cunning?

Why was I looking at these diminutive spangled and penciled chickens with their "rose combs" and "slender legs," as Wiki would have it? Well, it does have something to do with Howard Bahr, The Great Chicken Pact, and A Death at The White Camellia Orphanage.  That much I may reveal.  For more, you'll just have to wait till the book comes out in 2012.

(No, no, no CHEATING at all!
Making up is, of course, dandy.)

1.  What is the name of Dorothy Gale's chicken?
2.  In what Oz book does she appear?
3.  What is her name?
4.  How does she resemble a Hamburg?


  1. The citron-spangled bantam doesn't sound so much impossible and cunning as it does succulent and delicious!

  2. ...oooh, Oziana.

    I’ll play. The chicken was named Bill, but Dorothy felt she should be more appropriately called Billina, as that was more feminine. She first appeared in OZMA OF OZ, book three of Baum’s works that concerned themselves with the land of Oz, which offered an account of the second trip that Dorothy took to Oz as well, by way of Ev, if memory serves.

    Billina was a yellow hen (I can still see the color illustration plates of John R. Neill in my mind’s eye). I don’t know if her personality/character was like that of the hamburg, but I always thought she behaved in a brave manner, and Baum portrayed her as loyal and loving toward Dorothy. It’s been a while since I’ve read the books, but that’s probably pretty close.

  3. very cool! cant wait till 2012!

  4. Dave Foster, you naughty man--

    They say the eggs are succulent and delicious, too, Dave... and then you would still have an adorable Baumesque citron-spangled bantam to be your tiny feathered pal! I'm surprised--a big, mushy guy like you going all cave man over a cute little bantam!

  5. Elsa Luise blows my Baum-knowledge out of the water! Excellent. I think she was also supposed to be feisty and energetic (helpful if you are brave.)

    Evidently Hamburgs can be a bit skittish around people, so that's not Ozian, I don't believe.

    I am wondering why my mother the librarian did not fetch me home more Oz. Must have been that they weren't considered quite "A" rack books in library world, which once upon a time used to make these judgments when helping people to books.

  6. Susanna, I always forget that you have a Randy Cross and Howard Bahr habit.

    Don't make the time go too fast because there is a lot left to do before the Orph train gets to the depot.

  7. Never read the Oz books, sad to say. They are probably the only major children's books available when I was a child that I did NOT read. They must not have had them at the branch library across the street, and then I never got around to it when I was older.

  8. i do love chickens. One day, when things calm down around this place, i shall have a few.

    Sorry, i'm rather illiterate--have not read Baum nor many others i "should" have.

    i'm sure you've met Lauren Scheur, via Facebook if not elsewhere?? She is children's book author and illustrator and creator of one of my favorite blogs: "scratch and peck". Since i have very little brain left, i can't remember if i've seen you posting on her blog/FB posts or not...

  9. Robbi,

    I do not believe I read even the first one as a child--and I did not read the Narnia books either. In fact, I have no memory of them at all until I became a young adult, even though I read the Lewis "space" or "Ransom" trilogy.

    Sad when one misses childhood books until later because then, unless they are very great indeed, one is a bit to old to get the full effect. I am never too old for the Alice books.

  10. zephyr,

    As I am in the heart of the village, I am not allowed to have chickens. That would have been a pleasant thing about living in the country near Cooperstown, but I was afraid of going weird with too few people to talk to while writing books!

    No, I do not know her, though I may know her books if she's old enough (that is, I have read zillions to my children and sometimes don't remember who wrote what.) I shall have to see what she scratches up.

  11. Mea culpa, Elsa Louise--12:29 PM, August 14, 2011

    I spelled Elsa Louise's name wrong! Forgive me, Elsa Louise, it is not me but bad cheap Toshba, who often refuses to yield up her letters (even the "i" in her own name--so I have supposed she is telling me that her name is Toshba.

  12. No worries in re the name spelling, as it is a variant. My Toshiba laptop suffered an injury of its own a couple of days ago so am acquainted with keyboard misbehavior.

    Oz has moved in and out of fashion for the past century. In its earliest publishing incarnation, after the series grew popular, I would dare say people anticipated each new volume with the same type of breathless Pottermania-type furor that we’ve witnessed this past decade.

    However, with that said, I cannot recall seeing Oz volumes in libraries often if ever. Perhaps they were too expensive; perhaps there was a slight (or not-so-slight) bias against a series that many considered popular (or “popular”).

    Be that as it may, my own personal library is home to all of Baum’s Oz books, some courtesy of an older brother handing them down to me and some my parents having bought for me when the books were reissued in hardcover in the sixties. The latter are sans color plates and offer only black and white line drawings of the original illustrations, probably an attempt to keep production costs down.

    Thus, in my collection are some with color plates and others without, and my Ozma of Oz was one of my brother’s, an earlier edition.

    All the animals could talk in Oz, and Ev, too. When the chicken coop washed up on the shore of Ev’s beach (I’m really reaching back now and recalling that, yes, Dorothy and Billina were in a chicken coop that washed overboard from the ship on which they were passengers during a storm), the little chicken could speak with the little girl. We could know much of the hen’s thoughts through her direct communication of same, with no need to speculate.

    I am by no means an Oz scholar, merely a happy consumer. I read only recently of an upscale Manhattan store that carries the newly reissued Oz books as high-end merchandise. From what I understand, the store is where the elite most definitely meet to buy the books (something the upper-middle and possibly the upper class feel is de rigueur for their tots’ entertainment).

    Not to wax on too much longer but just wanted to note that the books were very different from the 1939 film, as well as being very different from most other performed media that used the narratives as their base. The books can stand on their own.

    Baum himself was involved with many of the early plays, possibly even an earlier film, as he had theatre in his blood and was savvy and wanted to make a buck however so he could manage. Nothing wrong with that. He struggled financially for many years before he saw success.

  13. Elsa Louise,

    That was all very interesting... I shall have to ask my mother whether there was some reaction against Baum in Library World. (Or perhaps he had simply not yet made it into the library school textbooks at that time.)

    Clearly I ought to be acquainted better with Billina! How can one pretend to have a special interest in chickens and not have read about her adventures?

    Toshba greets your machine. "Leho!" Left to her own devices, that is the way she speaks.

  14. Marley,
    Is it possible to fix the keyboard, or wouldn't it be worth it?

  15. Nah, I don't think it is worth the effort. I just have to watch what Toshba does! She's sneaky. But some day I will graduate to a better-behaved machine...

    (Hear that, Toshba? Behave!)

  16. I am three years late responding, but Ray Bradbury wrote an interesting article about why librarians dislike(d) the Oz books, which has been reprinted in the Schocken heritage edition of "The Wizard of Oz". In a nutshell, he thought that in the 50s anything overly imaginative was suspect. He also thought it had to do with the format of the books, and the fact that they were so popular, so they were forever falling apart and were a nuisance to shelve. Or something. It's worth a read. Anyway, "Ozma of Oz" should be named "Billina in Oz", if you ask me. She's the one who makes all the interesting discoveries and really saves the day. And she's such a character. She also tells Dorothy off for making up impossible stories about talking animals in Oz. I love Billina.

  17. Late is fine!

    I am pondering whether Gili could be short for Gillina, and whether chickens can use keyboards...

    I wonder if he was right. My mother was a librarian--a state librarian and an academic librarian, and she introduced me to Edward Eager and E. Nesbit and Tolkien and George MacDonald... Of course, she's just one and perhaps not typical of public library librarians.

    No doubt falling-apart books were a pain if you didn't care for fastening them back together, but my recollection is that librarians used to be happy to recommend books and to see books were being read.

    However, I think in general that more so-called realistic stories were dominant.


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.