egg drop
Cover illustration
See permission.
The Bulletin
of the 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.
Egg Drop

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 excellent yet 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).

The illustrations 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

egg drop

Cover image by Mini Grey from Egg Drop ©2009. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers.

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This page was last updated on September 1, 2009.