Series number: 53
Number of pages: 112
Release date: March 1997
Tagline: It’s a finger lickin’ nightmare!
Did I Read It as a Child?: No
The Story On the Back
Everyone in Goshen Falls knows about weird Vanessa. She dresses all in black. Wears black lipstick. And puts spells on people. At least, that’s what they say. Crystal and her brother, Cole, know you can’t believe everything you hear. But that was before they made Vanessa mad. Before she whispered that strange warning, “Chicken chicken.” Because now something really weird has happened. Crystal’s lips have turned as hard as a bird’s beak. And Cole has started growing ugly white feathers all over his body…
The Story On the Pages
Stine was really stretching for these last dozen books or so, because c’mon, this title? This cover? Chicken Chicken promises pretty much one thing and that one thing is probably one of the least intimidating creatures on Earth: the chicken.
But there’s no use clucking about it because Chicken Chicken is what we’ve got, so Chicken Chicken is what we’ll look at today.
Our story opens on our POV Crystal. She lives in a small farming community with her parents and little brother Cole. They’ve been there since she was four and Cole was two because their parents hated the Bronx and always dreamed of owning a little farm to grow vegetables and raise chickens on. Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it?
Too bad Crystal is scared of chickens and hates the little bastards more than she hates anything else. I’m with you girl, I had to spend my teenage years in a tiny town too and that shit sucks whether or not you’ve got chickens constantly clucking around you and a rooster crowing to get you up at dawn!
Though maybe this town isn’t so tiny because even though Crystal claims to be in nearly the middle of nowhere, there’s still a woman rumoured to be a witch amongst the townsfolk. Her name is Vanessa and she likes to wear all black and keep to herself. Pretty much a Goth woman who gets profiled because there’s clearly something wrong with women who live by themselves.
Because this woman is rumoured to be a witch, all the kids in the town like to prank her. The poor woman (regardless of whether or not she’s actually a witch) gets a lot of shit, including having a pair of Cole’s friends fill her mailbox with water. When Crystal and Cole end up crashing into her and spilling her groceries all over the ground, she’s had enough.
The witchy woman points at them and whispers “chicken chicken”.
Crystal and Cole run off totally freaked. What did she mean by what she’d menacingly whispered? Is she actually a witch who’s put a hex on them?
Turns out that yes, yes she is! Within days, Crystal and Cole are succumbing to the curse she placed on them. They’re unable to stop clucking, their lips have turned hard and pointy, and feathers are sprouting out of their bodies. The two of them are turning into chickens!
The two are scared they’ll turn completely into chickens if they don’t do something fast. Their plan? To go speak to Vanessa, children to witch. But when they arrive at her isolated house she isn’t in. So what’s a human-turned-chicken-monstrosity to do? Why breaking and entering of course! Because that’s going to make the witch happy, having people break into her house and riffle through her stuff!
And guess what? They break in not once, but twice! The first time, they grab a spell book titled “Chicken, Chicken, Chicken” and rush home to read it, but it’s just a cookbook. Why Crystal thought there’d be a full spell book dedicated to chicken related magic I’ll never know.
Their second time breaking in they find the correct book but Crystal can’t get the spell right and she just ends up shrinking them from human sized chickens into tiny little baby chickens. Vanessa finds them then and it’s here she reveals her evil intentions for turning them into chickens!
They were rude to her and she doesn’t like rude people.
Yes, that’s literally why. She’s dedicated her own life to manners and hates when other people are rude.
So with this big reveal, Crystal does the only thing she can to fix her situation: she’s polite. She types out a thank you note on Vanessa’s typewriter and Vanessa is so happy to see it she turns them back into humans. She even gets them each a glass of soda because she’s not such a bad person after all!
Our story ends with Crystal and Cole happy to be human again and thoroughly enjoying their soda. But maybe enjoying it too much. Cole drinks too quickly and ends up belching. Guess who doesn’t like that?
Our story ends with Vanessa pointing at the two and whispering “pig, pig”.
Our main characters, Crystal and Cole, hate chickens but live on a chicken farm. They’re also rude and are punished for it. The only thing we really know about them is that they never learn their lesson. They were just uncursed for being polite but then immediately start belching in front of the person that curses rude people? You deserve all the curses that Vanessa can place upon your head!
I’m just going to come right out and say it, I don’t care at all about Crystal or Cole. All my interest lies with the polite witch Vanessa. Who is she? Where did she come from? Why did she dedicate her life to, not only witchcraft, but also politeness? There’s such a back story to create for Vanessa! She’s like Hannibal Lector, who also has a habit of dealing with rude people with more than just a strong word. Only where Hannibal Lector eats the people that are rude to him, Vanessa curses them.
I’m going to headcanon that she’s British. She grew up in a boarding school where politeness and manners were held in high esteem and she was the politest of the polite; at least to everyone’s faces. That’s where the witchcraft comes in. She could cast countless curses on her teachers and schoolmates in the privacy of her dorm and still win the polite award come the end of the year. That’s my headcanon and I’m sticking to it because there’s literally nothing else in the book to go on!
Spooks and Scares
Transformation is our big spook and/or scare in Chicken Chicken with a curse quickly transforming Crystal and Cole into chickens. It’s honestly not a horrendous idea. There are a lot of body horror moments within Chicken Chicken (though toned down for the pre-teen audience), including lips turning to beaks, growing and then plucking feathers, and a briefly mentioned bit at the end where Crystal and Cole’s heads are becoming narrow, with their eyes spreading to the sides of their now skinny heads.
Can’t you imagine all this happening in a weird 1980’s horror movie? The whole plot of Chicken Chicken feels yanked from a B movie from a few decades ago and if it had been presented to me in that format, I probably would have enjoyed it more. And that’s because stories like these, body horror stories, are better done visually.
Body horror works best when the audience can see what’s happening and be repulsed and disgusted, and yet unable to look away while it happens. So while a human body morphing into a chicken would be a truly disgusting and hell, maybe even truly frightening as a sequence of events to witness, reading about it just doesn’t hold the same thrill.
And yeah, you can write some truly gruesome things into a book (look no further than Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho to prove that point), but you can’t make a graphically shocking book like American Psycho that’s aimed at the 9-12 crowd. Ellis could probably get away with a scene showing the visceral, bloody, self-mutilation of plucking feathers out of a human body, but Stine has to go a little gentler.
Or at least his editors do.