A: To get to the other side.

Confused? Bear with us on this.

For children, “new and different” can often be synonymous with “strange and frightening.” The same can be true for chickens, too — at least in the world of Jean-François Dumont’s barnyard fable The Chickens Build a Wall.

As the story opens, the farm is tranquil and serene. Then, a stranger appears.

The stranger.
The stranger. (Scary, no?)

The animals are at first startled by the stranger’s sudden appearance, but when he does no harm to any of them, most of them leave him alone and go peacefully about their business.

Most of them, that is — but not the chickens. They keep a wary eye on him throughout the day.

When the stranger disappears overnight, things only get worse for the nervous fowl. Suspicious, they rush about counting their eggs (none are missing), certain there must be some malice afoot.

Birds of a feather panic together.
Birds of a feather panic together.

All this fear and worry leaves the poor chickens desperate for action and vulnerable to demagoguery. Thankfully, the bombastic rooster is there with a cunning plan to put the hens’ nervous energy to use.

Enter the demagogue.
Enter the demagogue.

“We have to protect ourselves from prickly invaders!” he tells them. His solution: build a wall!

Relieved to have something — anything — useful to do in their state of terror (and yes, after the rooster’s speech, the hens are now properly terrified), they get right to work.

"The hens quivered with excitement . . . "
“The hens quivered with excitement . . . “

Neglecting the laying of eggs and the care of their chicks, the hens work steadily, not even stopping when winter comes on and snow starts falling. After months of hard labor, their wall is finally finished.

That ought to keep out one little hedgehog!
That ought to keep out one little hedgehog!

Feeling secure at last, the hens prepare to begin enjoying(?) life within their impenetrable fortress, until they notice that someone else has been accidentally walled in with them . . . someone who has, unbeknownst to them, been coexisting peacefully among them for months without a single act of terror or egg-thievery.

Hello there, Stranger!
Hello there, Stranger!

And that, friends, is how the chickens finally “get to the other side.” The wall comes down, the stranger stays, and life in the barnyard becomes calm and idyllic once more.

The Chickens Build a WallSavvy adults may notice in this tale a subtle but cutting satire on political debates over immigration currently taking place in the U.S., France (where the book was originally published), and elsewhere.

Children will most likely see only a fun story about welcoming the new guy and learning not to be afraid of people who are different or experiences that are unfamiliar.

Both groups of readers, however, are bound to have a good chuckle over those silly chickens.

Click to order Jean-François Dumont’s The Chickens Build a Wall, or to download a coloring page from the book.

The paraphrase above was written by Rachel Bomberger.