Center for Children's Books
|The Big Picture, a
regular Bulletin feature both on-line and off, is an in-depth
look at selected new titles and trends. See the
archive for selections from previous months.
written and illus. by Mini Grey
See there, on our cover? That’s the Egg. It looks air-ready, doesn’t
it? Well, don’t be fooled.
The Egg dreams of flying, it’s true,
yearning to hit the skies with “birds and balloons, airplanes and
insects, helicopters and bats and clouds.” A visionary before its time
(by only a few weeks, really), it cooks up ways to become airborne,
finally fixing its plans on an old-fashioned leap from a great height;
the little oval aeronaut-wannabe therefore doggedly (or perhaps
eggedly) climbs a tall tower and flings itself into the air. The Egg
rejoices at its brief moment of seeming flight, but it’s really just a
windy plummet, ending in an egg-shattering scramble that turns the
would-be aviator into an irreparable mess—and then into a sunny
breakfast (“Luckily, the Egg was not wasted”).
Irreverence in picture books has been around for a while, of course.
But earlier genre subversion tended to clearly announce its difference,
as in The Stinky
Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid
Tales (BCCB 10/92), which
deliberately signaled, with its look and title, that this was a
departure from other folktale picture books. This is a hard-boiled
howler of the new type, like Raschka’s Arlene Sardine (BCCB 9/98) or
Willis’ Tadpole’s Promise
(BCCB 7/05), which deliberately plays up its
similarities to more traditionally themed picture books only to pull
the rug out—much to the delight of its audience, who thought themselves
too old and sophisticated for that rug anyway.
Grey doesn’t actually
send her young readers into her story unawares: the faux-somber tone of
this tale is set right from the beginning, with a narrating hen
sorrowfully explaining to her wayward chicky brood that “the Egg was
young. It didn’t know much. We tried to tell it, but of course it
wouldn’t listen. If only it had waited.” Kids will guess what’s coming
early on, even if for one brief moment they think they might be wrong
and then discover they’ve enjoyably been double-bluffed; the inexorable
windup just adds to the silliness, as do the details (the Egg “didn’t
know anything about aerodynamics or Bernoulli’s principle,” mourns the
text). There’s both an implicit parody of the old “you can be anything
you want!” theme, so overworked in books for the young, and an
subtle joke about the importance of timing (purists and farm dwellers
may note that chickens aren’t much good at flying either, but they’ve
still got a heck of a lot better chance than an egg).
both perpetuate the joke and let readers in on it. There’s a
gentle luminosity to the full-bleed, double-spread scenes, and an open,
friendly style that combines with exquisite balance in the compositions
to somewhat wickedly suggest innocent rural simplicity. Personification
is cleverly restrained, with the Egg sporting beady eyes and a pair of
wee feet, but no other features (until “flight” breaks its face into a
delighted, yolk-revealing smile that presages the damage to come).
Additional humor—and design rhythm—comes from science-like components
such as an array of aeronautic models or a “Plan of the Tower” off of
which the Egg plans to take flight; interpolated elements, such as a
foreshadowing clip of the Hindenburg and a fake newspaper article about
the Humpty-Dumpty-esque tragedy (“Egg Drop!” screams the headline in
the Farm News), provide
further texture. Note also the endpapers,
teeming with rows of lovely brown eggs; the Egg, peering at the world
through his eyeholes, is the only one to breach
the shell in the opening, while the closing reveals all of them simply
bursting with chicks, closer to flight than the Egg, alas, ever was.
While a few tender hearts may begin to eye their scrambled eggs
wistfully, kids in general will roar with laughter at this
expectation-busting tale. It also comes ripe and ready for a number of
possible uses—offer it as a sassy poultry counterpart to the Icarus
myth, or employ it as an offbeat way to introduce the classic egg-drop
experiment, and watch the kids, if not Egg, roll.
Deborah Stevenson, Editor
Cover image by Mini Grey from Egg
Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers.
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This page was last updated on September 1, 2009.