The Talking Eggs

11May10

by Robert D. San Souci
pictures by Jerry Pinkney

The Talking Eggs is a retelling of a folktale based on a Creole story from Louisana. It tells the tale of a kind-hearted girl named Blanche who lives with her horrible mother and sister that treat her like their slave. One day after returning with water that they deemed too warm, they struck poor Blanche. “Scared to go home”, Blanche runs off into the woods where she runs into a an old woman.

The old woman takes Blanche home, under the promise that she mustn’t laugh at anything she sees at her house. Some of magical and bizarre sits at the woman’s house include a two-headed cow with corkscrew shaped horns, multi-colored chickens with sporadic numbers of legs, the old woman’s removable head, and magical cooking instruments.  After Blanche follows of her directions faithfully and keeps her promise not to laugh, the old woman rewards Blanche with one final test by instructing her to go out to the chicken house and take only the eggs that say ‘take me’.

These plain white eggs pale in comparison to the “gold or silver or covered with jewels” eggs, but Blanche successfully resists temptation and follows the old woman’s instruction. As Blanche continues with the old woman instructions, as ludicrous as they might seem, she throws the eggs over her shoulder, the turn into beautiful shoes, dresses, jewels and gold, and even a horse-drawn carriage. Returning home, her greedy mother and sister hatch a plot for Rose to also pay the old woman a visit and get the same riches that Blanche has acquired, and then they will steal Blanche’s things and leave town with it all. The greedy little Rose agrees, but does treats the old woman poorly and does not following her instructions. As a result, they end up with nothing and Blanche leaves to go have a prosperous life.

According to San Souci’s author’s note, the tale “appears to have roots in popular European fairy tales, probably brought to Louisana by French émigrés”.  I most immediately made connections to a Cinderella tale based on the strained relationship between the girl and her malicious mother and sister, as well as the appearance of a horse-drawn carriage. I also likened the old woman to being a sort of fairy god mother.

Winning a Caldecott Honor, Jerry Pinkney’s illustrations bring the story to life with lively, yet realistic illustrations. Pickney carefully crafts the illustrations around the text in ways that often makes it the light areas backing the text look like the sky. The rich textures Pinkney creates using a painterly technique adds a lot of dimension to the illustrations. Some of his depictions of wooded areas just pull you right into the tangled shrubbery because they are so convincing.

The writing of this book may present some language barriers for younger students, particular students with limited English proficiency. Some of the most different structures that appear in the text are the figures of speech, such as  “the tail end of bad luck”, “putting on airs”, and “lit into me.” However, these phrases help set the story in the deep South of America and relate to the cultural framework the story represents.

I wondered about the scene where Blanche is struck by her mother and her sister  – this could really trigger some heavy emotions in children who are experiencing child-abuse at home. Although published as a “Dial Book for Young Readers”, I think this story might be better suited for upper elementary and middle school students.

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