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Every time I see a new book from Kevin Henkes, I think of that time that Bruce Handy wrote in the New York Times, “It should be said: Kevin Henkes is a genius.” Bona fide genius or not, I do think Henkes is a master of the picture book form. And he’s got three Caldecott nods under his belt (a Medal and two Honors) to show for it.

That is to say I have high expectations whenever I see his books. It is, however, not to say that the committee will think of his prior books when looking at Egg, released early this year. As noted in the criteria, they are to look at each book without regard to the illustrator’s previous work, Medals won, etc. They will give the book a close look to see if the book stands on its own merits.

Let’s do the same.

First, the basics: this is a book with a preschooler audience as the sweet spot. The text is spare. (Will the Geisel committee consider this one? It seems just right for emerging readers.) It’s the story of four eggs, ready to crack. Three reveal surprises: a blue, yellow, and pink chick. The fourth egg, a green one, takes its time but eventually emerges as a crocodile. (Alligator? Crocodile? I never get them straight. We’ll call him a “reptile.”) Naturally, the baby chicks are frightened and flee. But a friendship develops when the chicks return, having seen the neglected reptile feeling lonely. In the end, the three chicks sail off on the back of the reptile (here’s where we stop and chuckle to think about how, say, Tomi Ungerer’s version of this story would end so differently) as the peach-colored sun sets. As it sets, it becomes an egg, and a peach-colored bird flies free. “The end,” Henkes writes. “Maybe.”

Another important thing to note about this book is that the publisher likes to describe it as a “graphic novel for preschoolers.” Indeed, the book uses comics-like panels on nearly every spread, often simple grids that divide many of the pages into quadrants.

This is a book that captures so much emotion and drama in few words and with simple shapes. Let’s look at what else there is to love:

  1. Feel the cover. The letters and artwork have a distinct, smooth texture, different from the paper it’s on. Nice touch.
  2. Take the dustjacket off to find a surprise on the cover: It’s a different illustration, featuring five eggs in a row under the title. After finishing the story, children will understand why that fifth peach egg is on the cover. Another nice touch.
  3. But back to that dustjacket: I love the round shapes and how much tranquility and comfort they communicate to young readers. You learn, as you read, that this is an illustration that appears about a quarter of your way into the story. It’s where the three birds wait patiently for the green egg to crack. They gather around it, ears to the shell. “Listen,” it says on that page. Such tenderness there. Patience, perseverance, attention, observance: these are important to friendship.
  4. The title page has merely the word egg in large letters, and the circular parts of the e and two gs are colored the same as the three chicks that first hatch. Yet another nice touch.
  5. There’s a lot of subtle humor here, as well as body language that endears you to the characters. Your heart melts a little when you see the grids where the chicks first hatch: “Surprise!” After the chicks take wing and fly a bit, the pink one first notices that the green egg has yet to hatch. She points at it with her wing and raises the other one to call to the other chicks. Such drama! Later, as they ride atop the reptile, you see their wings around one another’s backs, as if they’re steadying one another.
  6. The pacing is just right, especially when the reptile hatches from his egg. Henkes ditches all grids, giving this moment the attention (and, therefore, drama) it deserves.
  7. The verso side of the half title page is green, just like our reptile. The recto side of the book’s final page is peach-colored. More nice touches.
  8. Both sets of endpapers feature small grids with blue, pink, yellow, and green — the colors of the four creatures who are friends by story’s end. (I almost wish there were at least one peach grid on each endpaper.)

In this 2013 post by Robin Smith, which is filled with good advice, she suggests you read a picture book the first time without reading the words. That is, read it as a “visual experience.” When I did that with Egg, I wondered for a moment if the words here were even necessary. But, yes, there’s so much humor when you read it again with the words, such as when you see four grids with eggs hatching. Three grids show chicks popping up with “surprise!” below them. The fourth grid remains merely “egg.” Reading this out loud to young children? It’s a hoot, as if to say, “Surprise! Surprise! Surprise! Um …. Still an egg.” Expect giggling.

What do you think? Does this “graphic novel for preschoolers” work? Will it rise to the top? Do you love the book’s wink of an ending as much as I do?

Read the starred Horn Book Magazine review of Egg.


Julie Danielson About Julie Danielson

Julie Danielson writes about picture books at the blog Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. She also writes for Kirkus Reviews and BookPage and is a lecturer for the School of Information Sciences graduate program at the University of Tennessee. Her book Wild Things!: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature, written with Betsy Bird and Peter D. Sieruta, was published in 2014.



  1. I have long admired the work of Kevin Henkes and have studied his entire career. I own a copy of all of his books. He has written picture books, novels, and early chapter books. Now he has a graphic novel for preschoolers. Has any single writer/illustrator shown more willingness to explore both medium and age levels?
    His books that I believe generally gather the most praise (such as reviewers’ stars and awards) are those he both writes and illustrates. Isn’t this true for other books that are have one writer/illustrator?

  2. Judy, now I’ll be thinking all week about those illustrators who have also written novels, chapter books, etc. Henkes certainly has done a lot — there are even some Newbery Honors and Geisel Honors to his name. I can think right off the bat of others who have illustrated for various ages (picture books, novels, etc.), but I’ll have to think more about the writing AND illustrating part.

    I’m not sure how to answer your second question. It depends entirely on the book (as opposed to saying, that is: An illustrator’s book is ALWAYS better if she both writes and illustrates it). Or am I misunderstanding your question? (Or maybe it was rhetorical!)

  3. Judy, some answers (with help from some children’s lit peeps, because it’s My Sleepy Time of Day). That is, some picture book author-illustrators—just a short list—who have also written novels for children:

    * Grace Lin (who has done picture books, beginning readers, and novels — much like Henkes)
    * Peter Brown
    * Chris Raschka
    * Eugene Yelchin
    * Adam Rex
    * Lane Smith
    * Juana Medina (if you consider the wonderful JUANA & LUCAS)
    * Lynne Rae Perkins
    * Brian Selznick
    * Elisha Cooper

  4. This conversation in the comments makes me wonder: What is the kidlit version of EGOTing? (I tried to think of something clever to put here but 1) it’s late and I’m tired 2) there are a LOT of awards for children’s literature 3) we need more awards that start w/vowels )

  5. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    Two books have won Newbery, NBA, and BGHB: M.C. HIGGINS, THE GREAT and HOLES.

  6. Martha V. Parravano Martha V. Parravano says:

    I love EGG so much. SO much. As Jules says, the pacing is absolutely magnificent, the build-up to the hatching of the green egg so well-timed, with panels setting up full-page illustrations and vice versa, and then the moment when the alligator (or whatever) hatches out and we get two full-page illustrations that convey SO much emotion. Surprise! and then the alligator’s snout poking up from the bottom of the next page and the birds’ alarm. The humor is just right for preschoolers, and it doesn’t come out of nowhere – Henkes imbues his characters with personality without having them say a word. So even in this simple book, the humor is character-based as well as situational. A feat!

    I hope the Caldecott committee takes a careful look at this, yes, work of genius. I also hope they look under the paper jacket, as Jules suggests (and I hope Travis Jonker gives this book Undies Award consideration, too!).

  7. Another magisterial achievement from Henkes, and quite understandably well entrenched in the Caldecott speculation. Do I love it as much as I did WAITING, which won a Caldecott Honor two years ago? No. Not quite as much. But I’d be foolish to place the philosophical breath of that work higher simply because Henkes aims for a slightly different audience here. Of course Henkes is a titan of children’s literature, and practically all of us adore the Caldecott Honor winning OWEN, the Caldecott Medal winning KITTEN’S FIRST FULL MOON and the Newbery Honored “OLIVE’S OCEAN.” I only secured my own personal copy of EGG over the weekend, and I immediately recognized it was quite a superlative work. I used it this past Monday with the five first grade classes I read to, and they all loved it as expected despite them being a bit older than the pre-schoolers. I can’t help but recall Laura Vacaro Seeger’s splendid Caldecott Honor book “FIRST THE EGG” from 2007, those obviously the books are as different as they are thematically attuned. Julie, I thought this a fabulous dissection of the book’s artistry and eligibility. I was first and formost taken by the pacing, the inside cover, the peach coloring and the slighty enigmatic finale. And I did feel the book too. Nice.

  8. Brenda Martin says:

    I’m not sure if it’s Henkes’ amazing body of work, and therefore my outrageous expectations, but for whatever reasons I like EGG very much but do not quite love it as much as the rest of you. I agree with all of Julie’s praise, which is why I can’t quite put my finger on what it is about EGG that falls slightly flat for me. Perhaps it’s the pastel palette, or perhaps the simplicity (both of which are on me, not the author). Which brings me to the white space… is there such as thing as too much? To be clear, I really like EGG and will continue to most happily share it with my students, who have responded very favorably to it.

  9. First, I want to thank Jules for reading my comments/questions and then replying so thoughtfully. I then read the comments by Elisa Gall and am completely flummoxed. My initial comments were only meant to show happiness that one of my favorite authors/illustrators was again worthy of discussion for his book, Egg.

    Today, I read additional comments from Martha and Sam and am now even more pleased and excited that others see award merit for this book. Thanks so much for taking time to express your opinions. I have no formal experience or training worthy of an opinion based on criteria.. (I react to books strictly from my heart!) But I read, value, respect, and trust the opinions of those who do know what they are talking about. I also believe many read blogs, but do not take time to let the writer know how much their time and knowledge is appreciated.

    I remembered Travis Jonker (100 Scope Notes) wrote a post (December 3, 2014) comparing the number of Calcecott winning books written/illustrated by one person to the number of those written by an illustrator/author team. My poorly worded question was really wondering if Egg, written by Henkes and illustrated by his wife, would follow HIS pattern of award recognition or break new ground. Married couples have been Caldecott winners. Perhaps this year might see another.

    Now, can anyone, (perhaps Elisha?) help me understand what Elisa Gall meant. I cannot find the word EGOTing in my dictionary and do not understand “we need more awards that start with vowels” . Thank you again, Martha, Sam, Travis, Jules, and all the bloggers who take time to educate people like me!

  10. Sorry, Brenda. In no way did I mean to leave you out. I did not see your comment until after posting mine. I am very interested in what you have to say. Henkes receives most recognition for books he writes/ illustrates. I personally prefer those books, too. The unanswered question is when you obviously have artistic and design talent, as he has demonstrated over and over, is there something special or more profound when the finished product is all your own work? More Caldecott Medal winners are in that category. Is this just coincidental?

  11. Judy, sorry to cause confusion. I agree that Egg is an amazing work of visual narrative.
    To clarify: The actor Philip Michael Thomas is known for coining “EGOT,” which is a term for when someone in show business has won an E.mmy, G.rammy, O.scar, AND T.ony. Thinking about all of the recognition Henkes had received made me think about what the children’s literature version of that would be. The Odyssey award would be a good one to include (since a lot of creators have recorded their own audiobooks, and vowels make it easier to form acronyms). 🙂

  12. Judy, you’ll be happy to know we asked Travis Jonker to do a guest post this year, and he may share some of those fun Caldecott stats.

    I know that your question was just sort of musing-out-loud, but I do love a good stumper like that. It’s neat to think about who else is fearlessly trying new age ranges, etc. Elisa was talking about how in the world of entertainment, performers who get “EGOT” status own an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony. There are some who have all of those. (At least I hope I just named all those correctly.) Her comment about vowels is a joke. Because so many of our awards begin with consonants, we wouldn’t have a snazzy acronym (like “EGOT”).

    Brenda, I understand what you’re talking about. It’s hard to put into words, isn’t it? Maybe, even though you can recognize the artistry in what Henkes has done with EGG, the STORY doesn’t resonate as much with you as do other Henkes-books? I mean, that’s just a guess. …. And now I’m going to wonder all day if there can be *too* much white space in a picture book like this. Hmm ….

  13. Aaaand … I just saved Elisa’s comment from the world of spam, where she said pretty much the same thing. 🙂

    And thanks for weighing in, too, Sam!

  14. Thank you kindly, Elisa and Jules, for helping me to understand.

  15. Allison Grover Khoury says:

    I’m very behind this year thanks to bronchitis, but it is hard not to love a book by Kevin Henkes. Thanks for the review and the interesting comments. I’m always hopeful he’ll get love from the Caldecott committee.

  16. I am an idiot. Why does the sun become an egg?

  17. Susan Dailey says:

    Great review! I agree that the feel of the book is wonderful, esp. the weight of the paper. (Was it Robin who bemoaned cheap paper?) I also hope this book is on the Geisel Committee’s radar and wondered– for a second–whether this would have an unhappy ending. (I should have known to trust Henkes not to do that to a child.) And, while not definitive, the CIP says the reptile is an alligator.

  18. I was able to read this to 14 classrooms yesterday, and it was a lot of fun watching their faces when I turned the page for the alligator surprise. I read the book to kids in grades 1-4, and I often got bigger reactions from the older students than the younger ones, since the older ones had already formed an opinion about what was going to happen, so they were even more surprised.

    The kids were very engaged with the cover before we read the book. Every class noticed that the eggs on the back were the same color as the eggs on the front, many even noticed that they chick eggs are in the same order as the chicks on the front. The older students had a lot of theories about what the book would be about, which was why the surprise was so much fun. The speculation as to why there were five eggs on the cover was wild, but it meant that as soon as we finished half the class wanted to immediately point out the connection from the end to the cover.

    I admit to giving them a little visual scaffolding by highlighting particular pages ahead of the question, but when I asked about the endpapers, most of the third and fourth grade classes readily pointed out that not only do the endpapers feature the egg colors, they also have the brown colors of the panel frames, and reflect the square shapes that are featured in the book’s panels.

    This was another book, like Big Cat Little Cat, that I appreciated but wasn’t overwhelmed by until I started using it with classrooms. What made it stand out for me is that we ended up spending more time talking about the book and its details than we did actually reading the book. That always makes me sit up and take notice. Every detail, from the choice of which colors to include in the title page EGG (since only three could be chosen) to why there were three different versions of peck-peck-peck (a big one, a quartered page, and a gazillion tiny squares) were clearly thought out and conscious choices.

  19. Also, I know some of the other blogs I follow, like Heavy Medal for instance, have a section on the right that shows recent comments. Since there are often times that people come back and comment on an old post (like I just did!), I find the recent comment section very helpful for keeping up with conversations that I might have missed because they were not on the most recent post. Is there any chance that Calling Caldecott could implement something similar?

  20. Yes, it was Robin who bemoaned cheap, see-through paper!

    Alys, I love reading about your students’ reaction to the book — and their careful observations.

  21. Martha V. Parravano Martha V. Parravano says:

    Alys, that’s a great idea and I will look into it.

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