CM . . . . Volume XXIII Number 29 . . . . April 7, 2017
The Fabulous Friend Machine by Nick Bland tells the tale of a farmyard chicken named Popcorn. Popcorn is the friendliest and kindest chicken on Fiddlesticks Farm. One day she finds a cell phone in the corner of the barn. A message pops up on the screen, saying "Hello!", and being the friendly chicken that she is, Popcorn quickly responds with a "hello" too. She then starts receiving all kinds of friendly messages, and Popcorn declares that this is indeed a friend machine. Becoming so engrossed with her new friends and with her new friend machine, Popcorn begins neglecting her old friends at Fiddlesticks Farm.
She decides to host a party and invites only her new friends. But to her surprise, her new friends weren't fabulous at all: they were wolves that wanted a chicken supper! Popcorn's friends jump to her rescue, chasing the wolves (who took the friend machine) away for good.
Nick Bland, author of the favourite The Very Cranky Bear, has written a fun contemporary cautionary tale in The Fabulous Friend Machine. My own children were delighted and giggled at the idea of a chicken using a cell phone. Using a chicken as the main character also reminds the reader of other didactic tales, such as the classic story of Henny Penny. The humourous illustrations and fun fonts also make the book a charming story to read with children.
In terms of plot, The Fabulous Friend Machine could have also taken a different direction. After planning for a party for her new friends, instead of wolves, no one could have shown up. This would have also been effective in terms of a cautionary tale. Bland, however, decided to focus more on Internet safety.
Younger children will enjoy the funny illustrations and story of Popcorn the chicken. Older readers will enjoy the same elements and also benefit from the message of Internet safety. The Fabulous Friend Machine makes a fun and timely addition to home and school libraries to prompt conversations about safe online practices.
Dr. Kristen Ferguson teaches literacy education at the Schulich School of Education at Nipissing University in North Bay.
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