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Interview: Michelle Worthingon talks about Mama's Chickens


Michelle Worthington is an international award-winning author of empowering picture books for children. She has been diagnosed with Progressive Nonfluent Aphasia (a form of dementia) and hopes her book will help children understand what dementia can look like when their caregiver suffers from it.


A sensitive, beautifully illustrated book that uses backyard chickens to give a closely observed child's-eye view of early-onset dementia, Mama’s Chickens by Michelle Worthington & Nicky Johnston, is published by EK Books.



Can you tell us a little about the new book?

Mama didn’t want chickens, but she grows to love them as her dementia symptoms increase. Her young children see that she doesn’t always act like her old self anymore; this upsets both them and the chickens, but Mama always finds ways to show them just how much they are wanted and loved.


How difficult was it writing Mama’s Chickens?

I found it very therapeutic to write Mama’s Chickens, based on my own experience with aphasia. It can be overwhelming thinking about what the future holds so I wanted to create a story that dealt with the issue in a way that was realistic but positive.


What research was involved?

I was diagnosed with aphasia in 2019 and am still undergoing testing to get a concrete diagnosis, as dementia is a spectrum and people can present with the same thing in very different ways. Having a strong family history of the women in my family experiencing early onset dementia, it was something I was always aware of and there is more and more research done every year into diagnosis and treatment outcomes.


What was your routine or process when writing this book?

When I write picture books, they come as lightning bolt inspiration and I write a very messy first draft that only I can understand. It has a strong resemblance to chicken scrawl as my grandmother used to say. Then I refine it over and over again until the words are right and in the right order. I also leave room for an illustrator to do their magic.


If a soundtrack was made to accompany the new book, name a song or two you would include.

I would definitely love to include the chicken dance, as it was a favourite of mine in primary school.

I think Rascal Flatts – "My Wish" was playing a little in my head, as well as Lee Ann Womack – "I Hope You Dance"


What did you enjoy the most about writing Mama’s Chickens?

It is important to me that everything I write comes from personal experience and I am giving children an authentic representation of the world. I hope they find this book informative, uplifting and entertaining.


What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

I gave Chooky La La a cuddle.


What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

Wendy Shurety wrote a beautiful book called Pocket Treasure. Allira 's favourite dress has pockets that are perfect for holding all her little treasures. There's something in there for everyone! But when Allira needs to decorate her teacher's birthday surprise, she finds her pockets are empty! Allira might have given all her treasures away, but she has good friends who can come to the rescue. I also love this book about friendship because I also love dresses with pockets.


What’s next on the agenda for you?

This year I am focused on writing and travelling. There are so many more stories inside my head and I can’t wait to share them with the world.

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