UPTON, Mass. - Lauren Scheuer expected to get a few eggs when she decided to start her own backyard chicken flock. But she did not expect her hens would lay a book.
That book is "Once Upon A Flock: Life With My Soulful Chickens," Scheuer's love letter to her quirky flock. The book will be released March 19 and was named one of the top 10 most anticipated memoirs of 2013 by Publishers Weekly.
"That first year with my birds, especially when Lucy fell ill and I had no choice but to care for her -- well, we bonded," Scheuer said. "I never expected anything like that would happen."
The Upton resident's decision to start raising chickens came as a surprise to her husband, Dan, and daughter, Sarah. But the family quickly fell in love with the balls of fluff that arrived in the mail: the bossy (and perhaps evil) Lil' White, the loyal Hatsy and Lucy, the "special needs hen" whose struggle with Marek's disease and desire for a chick provides both tears and laughs for the memoir's readers.
Scheuer is a longtime children's book illustrator, perhaps best known for her work with American Girl. She picked up both pen and camera to chronicle the life of her flock, first in the popular "Scratch and Peck" blog that served as her rough draft for "Once Upon A Flock."
"I kind of taught myself to write on the blog," Scheuer said. "The moment I realized I was a writer was the moment I wrote a blog post that gave me the same high as drawing a good piece of illustration. Writing is 10 times harder than illustration, but it's just as rewarding."
Backyard chickens have become a national trend. The town of Grafton last year passed an ordinance allowing them, and more urban areas such as Cambridge and Worcester now include chicken permitting.
The allure is simple, Scheuer said. Eggs produced by hens allowed to eat natural ingredients (including backyard bugs and worms) are higher in Omega-3s and lower in cholesterol. Little land is required to raise chickens. In Scheuer's backyard, her chickens roam through the garden that also provides food for the family table in the summer.
They're also free entertainment.
"You spend a little time with them and you realize chickens have compassion," Scheuer said. "Chickens understand a lot of things in those teeny-tiny brains the size of a bottle cap."
Scheuer will make appearances at A Little Common Sense on Upton Common on April 6, Upton Library on April 27, and Tatnuck Booksellers in Westborough on April 14.