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Spotlight on Science Writers

A select group of authors who have won or been finalists for the AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books have been invited to write or record an introduction to one of their books. We have suggested a few guidelines, but the format and content have been chosen by each author and will be appropriate for their book's intended audience. Science NetLinks will include related classroom resources appropriate for students and educators at the end of each Spotlight on Science Writers post. You can read all the posts in this series here.
Melissa Caughey on A Kid's Guide to Keeping Chickens:


Hello friends,

Have you ever dreamed about keeping chickens? Well I can’t say I ever did until I saw them popping up all over town in neighbor’s yards. Then some of our friends decided to keep chickens. We took a huge leap of faith and decided to join them. Then it happened!

Can you believe that we all fell in love with our flock of six girls? Chickens make the best pets. We discovered they had different personalities. They were funny. They made great companions. They laid delicious eggs and they taught us a lot about life. I was so inspired by these fluff balls that I wanted to teach, encourage, and inspire you to keep a flock of your own. I wanted to give you all the information that you would need to not only try something new but to be successful at it too.

Keeping chickens is not difficult and it doesn’t take much time at all. They will inspire your art and teach you about gardening. Chickens also teach you about math, science, and even engineering without you even realizing it. Did you know that you can stand on two cartons of eggs with your bare feet and the eggs will not break? Building and designing a chicken coop uses lots of science as does planning and planting a garden. Who knew that chickens were so amazing? I’m excited for your new adventures and remember, if you can dream it, it can happen. It did for me. Chickens made me an author. How cool is that?

Enjoy the adventures!

Melissa Caughey is a nurse practitioner, backyard chicken keeper, beekeeper, and master gardener. She spent her early childhood growing up in rural New Jersey with many fond memories of her best friend's dairy farm. In her late teens, she moved to Los Angeles and spent many years there as a "city girl." More than a decade ago, Melissa and her husband decided to move back East and settle on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. While working a half acre of cleared land in a suburban setting over the past six years, Melissa has shared her family's adventures on her award-winning blog, Tilly's Nest. Melissa also writes for HGTV, DIY Network, Grit Magazine, Community Chickens, and Keeping Backyard Bees and contributes to Country Living Magazine online. She travels around the country giving lectures about chickens, gardening, and beekeeping.

Her book, A Kid's Guide to Keeping Chickens, was the winner of the 2016 AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books in the Hands-On Science Book category.

Photo Credit: Stacey Hedman.


Book/Author Resources
  • At BackYard Chickens you can learn about breeds, read articles and reviews, and ask users poultry-related questions in the forum.
  • My Pet Chicken is another site where you can ask experts questions, learn more about what's needed to raise a flock of chickens at home, and find useful products.
  • The Livestock Conservancy is an organization committed to protecting endangered livestock and poultry breeds from extinction.
  • The American Poultry Association is the oldest livestock organization in North America. You can learn about lots of chicken breeds on their site.
  • Researchers confirm that some barnyard birds have a magnetic "sixth sense." You can learn more by listening to this Science Update.
  • Are you interested in other types of birds, in addition to chickens? Learn more by checking out All About Birds, a comprehensive, online guide to birds from the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.
  • 4-H is an organization of free clubs and school programs around the country for kids ages 8–18 who want to help make the world a better place. Originally created by the Cooperative Extension System of land-grant universities, 4-H has a long history of teaching kids about agriculture, science, ecology, and veterinary science, among other topics. More than six million kids belong to 4-H groups in their local communities.
  • Future Farmers of America is an organization for students in grades 7–12 who may be interested in a career or leadership in agriculture.
  • In the Farmers & Pesticide podcast, hear how even the routine use of pesticides can pose serious health risks in the long run.
  • Robot Farmers may revolutionize agriculture in the future. Listen to this Science Update podcast to learn more.


  • In the Big Egg Mystery lesson (3-5), students will learn about the scientific process by exploring how a bird can sit on his/her eggs without breaking them.
  • In this What the Cluck?! podcast at the Frugal Chicken, you can listen to the host discuss breeds she thinks are child-friendly and those that aren't as good for young families.
  • Use An Egg Is Quiet (K-2), to help students learn about eggs and observe and describe changes in a variety of simple activities involving eggs.
  • In this Science Update (6-12), learn how special diets are helping curb the environmental impact of chickens.
  • Scientists switch off genes in chickens to learn about dinosaurs. Listen to this Science Update podcast (6-12) to learn more.
  • If you're talking about raising chickens in the context of treating them as pets, the Pets: Oh Behave (6-8) lesson can help students develop an understanding of how innate and learned behaviors and the environment determine behavior.
  • If you want to focus on raising chickens as a part of a larger section on agriculture, Modern Technology and Farming (3-5) is an open-ended lesson about agriculture and farming technology.
  • In the Global Breakfast lesson (3-5), students look for evidence of global interdependence in the foods that we eat.
  • Melissa also talks on her blog about gardening: Read this blog post on It's Our Garden by George Ancona, a 2014 AAAS/Subaru Science Books & Films Prize finalist, and get ideas for incorporating the book into other lessons.
  • The focus of the Wildflower Garden lesson (6-8) is for students to design a wildflower garden in order to gain a better understanding about designing a complex system and realizing that there are always constraints and trade-offs to be made when designing a human-made system.


This post originally appeared on Science NetLinks.