I had it happen again, where a children’s picture book leaves me thinking about all different things. Yesterday I read the book Nora’s Chicks to my younger kids. The story tells of a young Russian girl moving to the prairies of North America, feeling lonely and becoming a friend.
What fascinates me about the story is that Nora meets another girl about her own age fairly early on in the story though they don’t identify as friends till near the end. The girl is Susannah, and when their mothers visit they go and see the cows together, but they don’t talk much. They wave when they see each other from a distance other times, and presumably meet occasionally. Why then does friendship take a catalyst to start? And why would having something – some chicks – be such a great catalyst?
Besides a friend, Nora wants something of her own. The stray dog becomes her brother’s dog. She claims some geese and chicks and these become the catalyst for not feeling shy around Susannah. That’s what interests me. Is it the sense of having something, an interest or purpose of one’s own, that gives her something to talk about? Or is the catalyst the ability to offer something to her friend? At the point where she no longer feels shy, she offers that when her chicks have chicks she’ll give some to her friend.
People talk about how if you want a friend be a friend. But how often do people feel like they have something to offer to someone else? Not necessarily a tangible thing, but even something intangible? Are there times when we could be friends with others but don’t because we don’t see what we have to offer to them? Are there times when we undervalue ourselves or at least fail to see how each of us could be a friend?
Nora and Susannah’s relationship has some of the characteristics of friendship before they become friends. What is missing in that before time, that exists in the later time?
Was their friendship held up by a lack of things to talk about before? More likely it would be a lack of knowing where to start the conversations. Having something she cares about gives them something to talk about, and its easier to start talking about the visible thing (the chicks) then about the other less visible parts of Nora (how she misses Russia, etc). Yet presumably once they talk more they would learn more about the other parts of one another and have those other things to talk about.
I saw a neat blog post the other day about conversation starters, and about not answering the conventional answer to things because conventional replies to conventional lines end up being conversation stoppers. We should ask one another for stories, not answers, the blog post says, and that matches with what my dad has always been good at. He was always good at writing newspaper stories because is good at getting people talking about their lives. He is rarely afraid of asking people about themselves, while most of us wait for the other person to bring something up (risking that they never do).
Perhaps the problem wasn’t needing a conversation starter. Maybe they each needed assurance that the other one thinks well of her. It could be that Susannah’s approval of the chicks makes Nora think differently of Susannah but I think it more likely that Susannah’s approval of the chicks makes Nora realize that Susannah approves of her. I think being approved of makes her feel comfortable and able to speak and play.
Or maybe saying that she’ll give the chicks to Susannah makes Nora realize that Susannah will be around for a long time. Even though their parents own neighboring farms and there’s nothing to suggest that Susannah wouldn’t be living near for a long time, talking about interacting with a person at some point in the future can make a person feel like a friend.
Nora’s Chicks is written by Patricia MacLachlan, the author of Sarah, Plain and Tall.
I scour the book for signs of what year it takes place in. The people travel by horse and wagon but the clothing looks relatively modern so I’m thinking it is early 20th century. My hometown in Alberta was settled by Ukrainian immigrants around that time, so in some ways I’d like to think the story is from the same time.
I borrowed this book from my local library, and I encourage others to do the same. There are probably copies available at used bookstores too, but if you do decide to purchase this book through Amazon, feel free to use the affiliate link below. I promise I will continue to write about books when books inspire me to, rather than to try to sell them. And feel free to call me out if you think a post is just a sales one!