Chicken-clucking is its own language, or is it?

(Soundbite of chickens clucking)

SIMON: Is that Yiddish they're speaking? Oy vey. Whatever that means, which introduces the new book for children, "Beautiful Yetta, the Yiddish Chicken." And our next guest, WEEKEND EDITION's ambassador to the world of children's literature, Daniel Pinkwater.

Hello, Daniel.

Mr. DANIEL PINKWATER (Author): Hi, Scott. I have to make a sort of insincere disclaimer.

SIMON: Yeah?

Mr. PINKWATER: In selecting books for the program, I consider various criteria. Number one, I have to like it.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. PINKWATER: This book I really like. Now, it also happens by chance, that I wrote it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PINKWATER: Now, if it were merely that, I would not have brought it in because: modest. But this one is so cool and the pictures are so good, I would be remiss if I didnt bring it in. So, I apologize for being the author, but I say that all the time.

SIMON: Well, and tell us a little bit about the illustrator, because I understand she's a very hot young talent.

Mr. PINKWATER: Well, hot is indeed the right word. It is Jill, the redhead, to whom I have been married lo these many years.

SIMON: Jill Pinkwater, I've heard of her.

Mr. PINKWATER: Jill Pinkwater. I love these pictures. Dont you?

SIMON: Yeah. So tell us about this beautiful young chicken, Yetta, who is Yiddish speaking, yes?

Mr. PINKWATER: Well, heres the thing...

SIMON: Yeah?

Mr. PINKWATER: know, growing up there was Yiddish in the background in my family, as in many families, and...

(Soundbite of clearing throat)

Mr. PINKWATER: our case, the parents didnt really want us to understand it because they used it as code. It was a secret language. I guess as retaliation, my brother and sister and I all took Latin so that we could have a secret language too. So...

SIMON: Not as many punch lines in Latin though, or am I wrong?

Mr. PINKWATER: One liners fall flat. So I thought it would be fun for a kid to just have a little taste of (unintelligible) mean to be a Rosetta Stone. The kid's not going to learn Yiddish from reading this book, but it's an experience of translation and comparative orthography mixed in with a story that turns out to be heartwarming and nice.

SIMON: Well, let's read it. We have some guests who are going to help us out today.

Mr. PINKWATER: Shall I begin?

SIMON: Yeah. Please.

(Soundbite of clearing throat)

Mr. PINKWATER: Yes, I will.

It is night. A truck is driving on the highway. At the wheel is Mr. Flegleman, the organic chicken rancher. In wooden crates are chickens. The chickens are afraid. The truck rumbles through the darkness.

SIMON: The truck pulls up in front of Phil's Poultry World, and with a tear in his eye Mr. Flegleman begins to unload the crates. And Mr. Flegleman says, Goodbye, my dear chickens.

Mr. PINKWATER: (Foreign language spoken)

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Sorry. It's a beautiful language, after all.


SIMON: One of the crates has a loose lid. One of the chickens is brave and clever. It's Yetta, beautiful Yetta. She sees her chance. She struggles out of the crate and runs down the street.

Mr. PINKWATER: Yetta, beautiful Yetta, will not be sold. She will not be soup. She will not be roasted chicken on a Friday night. She is free. She is in Brooklyn.


Mr. PINKWATER: (Foreign language spoken)

SIMON: And then there's the skyline of Brooklyn and Yetta exclaims...

KELLY: Where I am?

Mr. PINKWATER: (Foreign language spoken)

I dont know why this chicken looks Jewish but she does. The streets of Brooklyn are strange to Yetta. Where is the grass? Where are the flowers? It is not like Mr. Flegleman's chicken ranch.

SIMON: There Yetta and the other chickens led a happy life, running through the fields and eating bugs.

KELLY: Oh, my beautiful home.

Mr. PINKWATER: (Foreign language spoken)

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: And then...

Mr. PINKWATER: And then she encounters some Brooklyn rats roughly her size. Get lost.

SIMON: And then, a bus. She says...

KELLY: Oh dear.

Mr. PINKWATER: (Foreign language spoken) The bus nearly hits her.

SIMON: Shouldnt that be (Foreign language spoken)?

Mr. PINKWATER: It a bus bearing down on you Scott, I think...

SIMON: (Unintelligible).

Mr. PINKWATER: (Unintelligible) sufficient. Yes.

SIMON: Right. I gather. Okay.

Mr. PINKWATER: And then she meets Brooklyn pigeons.

KELLY: Can you help me? I'm hungry.

Mr. PINKWATER: (Foreign language spoken)

SIMON: And the Brooklyn pigeons say...

Mr. PINKWATER: Go back to the farm, silly hen.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Oh my. Yetta wanders the streets of Brooklyn, lonely, confused, unhappy.

Mr. PINKWATER: Then Yetta sees a little green bird. She has never seen a bird like it.

KELLY: What is this?

Mr. PINKWATER: (Foreign language spoken)

SIMON: Sneaking up behind the bird sneakily is a sneaky cat. The cat is getting ready to pounce.

KELLY: Go away you, stinky cat.

Mr. PINKWATER: (Foreign language spoken)

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: You know, this is not original observation; you really dont need the English translation of Yiddish, do you?

Mr. PINKWATER: Not - well...

SIMON: (Foreign language spoken) is clearly a stinky cat. Yetta hears a voice above her head.

LIANE HANSEN: Look, that chicken saved Eduardo.

SIMON: (Foreign language spoken)

Mr. PINKWATER: Yetta looks up. Sitting on telephone wires are many little green birds; they are parrots. Yes, parrots. There are flocks of wild parrots in Brooklyn - this is true. Pet parrots flew away, found each other, had parrot babies and live very well in the streets and parks.

KELLY: Parrots.

Mr. PINKWATER: (Foreign language spoken)

SIMON: The parrot says...

HANSEN: The chicken saved me, and look, isn't she beautiful?

SIMON: (Foreign language spoken) And then, parrots on the line say...

HANSEN: Come here, beautiful chicken. Sit with us.

SIMON: (Foreign language spoken)

That's kind of a little come hither parrot.

Mr. PINKWATER: And then there's the sequence of Yetta trying to balance on the telephone wire with some difficulty.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PINKWATER: And then she says...

KELLY: I come from the country.

Mr. PINKWATER: (Foreign language spoken)

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: And then she puts her arm around Eduardo and Eduardo says...

HANSEN: I love this chicken.

Mr. PINKWATER: (Foreign language spoken) I love this chicken.

SIMON: The parrots say...

HANSEN: Please stay with us, beautiful chicken.

SIMON: (Foreign language spoken)

Mr. PINKWATER: Yetta stayed with the wild parrots of Brooklyn. They showed her how to find fruit and crusts of pizza.

SIMON: And Yetta told them - I love this illustration. Please tell Jill - of Yetta sitting down talking to a gaggle of parrots, a brace of parrots, whatever.

And Yetta told them stories of her life in the country.

Mr. PINKWATER: And chased cats away.

SIMON: In time, because she was so beautiful, and because she could chase cats, Yetta became the leader of the parrots, or maybe their mother.

KELLY: My dear children.

Mr. PINKWATER: (Foreign language spoken)

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PINKWATER: And they are still there. You can go and see for yourself.

SIMON: I've got to go this weekend.

Mr. PINKWATER: Is there a parrot colony yet in D.C.? There's one in Brooklyn. There's several in Brooklyn, or two or three. Theyve moved to Connecticut. There's a parrot colony in San Francisco, the same types of parrots.

SIMON: Parrot colony in Chicago.

Mr. PINKWATER: Is there?

SIMON: And unlike the parrots in New York, the parrots in Chicago vote.

Mr. PINKWATER: Very good.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Daniel?

Mr. PINKWATER: Yes, Scott.

SIMON: (Foreign language spoken)

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: I love this chicken. The book is "Beautiful Yetta, the Yiddish Chicken." It's written by Daniel Pinkwater and illustrated...

Mr. PINKWATER: And more importantly, it's illustrated by Jill Pinkwater. Yeah.

SIMON: Daniel, of course, is our ambassador to the world of children's literature, speaking with us from his home in the Hudson River Valley, where he is currently teaching local squirrels how to speak Amharic.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PINKWATER: I take your word for that.

SIMON: We'll mention Yetta the chicken was voiced by Sarah Beyer Kelly. In English, Daniel, of course, read Yetta's Yiddish. Liane Hansen is the voice of the parrots in English and the voice of the parrots in Spanish.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: (Spanish language spoken) Thank you, Daniel.

Mr. PINKWATER: Great pleasure. I had fun.

(Soundbite of music)

SIMON: And you can see Jill Pinkwater's vibrant illustrations, and listen as our WEEKEND EDITION team reads along, on our website,

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

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