Egg

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.

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Julie Danielson
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.
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Martha V. Parravano

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

Posted : Oct 08, 2017 05:31


jules

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.

Posted : Oct 04, 2017 12:17


Alys

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?

Posted : Oct 03, 2017 04:29


Alys

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.

Posted : Oct 03, 2017 04:26


Susan Dailey

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.

Posted : Sep 23, 2017 05:23


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