Today, we have a guest review by Larry Swartz. This weekend, we had our Dublin Literacy Conference. This conference is a teacher conference put on by the Dublin City Schools run by a committee of teachers. We had lots of great speakers--children's authors, professional authors, teachers, and more! It was a great day. Larry Swartz was one of the speakers.
Larry Swartz is an instructor in the Elementary Pre-service Program at OISE/UT and the Principal of Dramatic Arts Additional Qualifications courses at OISE/UT. He is frequently called upon to share his expertise with children's literature, classroom talk, and anti-bullying strategies.
Here is his review of EGGS by Jerry Spinelli.
I’ll start off by saying that I think Jerry Spinelli is one of the best authors for readers 10 – 13 years old. I would say that his books appeal to boys and girls. His characterization is always rich. The problems that he presents in his books connect to his readers because they can easily identify with them (i.e., peer pressure in Wringer, belonging in Loser, outcast in Star Girl, heroism in Maniac Magee). The stories have just enough of an imaginative twist to take readers into an imaginative world that is the stuff of fiction (Does a community exist that forces boys to wring the neck of pigeons?). Milkweed aside, there is a veneer of humour in Spinelli’s novel events, in the dialogue and in character quirks.
A student teacher recently gave me an advance copy of his newest novel EGGS and since I was heading off on a plane, I was thrilled to have a new Spinelli to keep me company. A good read it was. As I was reading, I couldn’t help thinking about the novels that I recently read that featured characters whose parents have died. . Give me a fifth grade class and I would love to organize Literature Circles (when all titles are available in paperback) around THE HIGHER POWER OF LUCKY, JEREMY FINK AND THE MEANING OF LIFE, WING NUT and EGGS, not only because one or more character has a missing parent, but because they get inside the skin and hearts of these kids who are coping with life’s rotten eggs and hoping to make omelets out of life’s dilemmas-large and small.
Take David and Primrose. David lost his mother to a freak accident. His father is often away on business and so the young boy lives with his grandmother. Primrose only knows of her father from a photograph. She lives with a mother whose talent is telling fortunes and whose outlook on life is a little less mature than her daughter’s. David and Primrose are friends, despite an age difference of four years (Primrose is older).
It’s very tempting to use an egg metaphor as a review of this book (hard boiled, scrambled, over easy, poached) but here I’ll pay tribute to the egg carton and offer a dozen reasons for admiring and respecting Spinelli’s new work.
1. Boy and girl protagonists. I’m a bit concerned about boy reads and girl reads. Yes, enjoyed the Newbery winner, but few boys are going to choose this book by the cover, by the title and because of its female protagonist. Spinnelli’s strength is in boy characters, but here he has a friendship between a boy and a girl. How clever too to make Primrose an ‘older’ friend. Without reading the book, can’t you imagine how a character named ‘Primrose’ might behave?
2. 224 pages. 42 chapters. Book is divided into sections (Eggs, The Waving Man,
Nightcrawlers, Painted Windows, Who Cares, Only Children). I like / many kids like short chapters.
3. The “Ha Ha” factor. When David first meets, Primrose’s fortune-telling mother, she predicts his future by reading the soul of his bare foot.
4. The Gross factor. David and Primrose have a tug of war fight over a nightcrawler. Each wants to capture the twelve-inch worm to raise money. Primrose pulled. David pulled - Thp. Each then held six inches of flailing nightcrawler. Gross!
5. A moment to touch-your-heart factor. Memories of David’s dead mother linger throughout. On the day she died in a bad fall, David decided to never break any rules. David believe if he went long enough without breaking a rule. sooner or later his mother would come back and they would together see the sunrise, that she promised they’d see together. In one episode, David clings to Primrose, sobbing.
“I’m not her you, she,” she whispered hoarsely. “I’m only me. Primrose.”
He nodded against her. “I know.”
6. Great dialogue… “Are we gonna be out all night?”
“You don’t even care. Do you?
7. This-only-happens-in-books episode. David first meets Primrose during an Easter Egg Hunt. While on his search, he comes across the still body of a girl hidden amongst the leaves. He takes a yellow egg from the mouth of the body and asks, “Are you dead yet?”. The girl does not answer. Later we learn, that the body belonged to Primrose who was just playing a trick on the boy, just like Spinelli was playing a trick on the reader. This is not a murder mystery.
8. A quirky character (or two). Spinelli’s short descriptions of a character paint a wide portrait in a sentence or two. Refrigerator John, “who was neither as tall nor as wide as a refrigerator. “His own right leg had been withered since birth. When he walked, the leg flapped out sideways, as though he were shaking a dog loose. Madame Dufee. Her body was lost in a robe of flowers, birds, and dragons with flaming tongues. Golden hoops you could pitch a baseball through hung from her earlobes.”
9. Two characters, so different, so the same. They plot together. They argue.
“What was with these two? The thirteen year-old girl, the nine year old boy.
What brought them together? Sometimes they acted their own ages, Sometimes
they switched. Sometimes they both seemed to be nine, other times thirteen.
Both were touchy, ready to squawk over nothing.” (note to publisher: Terrific
passage for a book jacket blurb).
10. The omelets-out-of rotten-egg factor. David and Primrose take the bad things
that life offers and learn to make the best of them. They learn from each other.
They need each other. They take care of each other. They’re going to be all
11. A touch of symbolism giving readers lots to think about. Eggs figure into the
plot (early in the book, David goes on an Easter Egg Hunt, vandals splatter eggs
against Primrose’s bedroom window, the sunrise is described as crisp and sharp
and beautiful and smooth as a painted egg.). I would love to ask ten year-olds
what the title makes them think about: Does it tell the truth of the story?Why six
eggs on the cover? How are David and Primrose like eggs? What kind of egg dish might each character be?
12. Great cover. No boys. No girls. Just six eggs resting in a robin’s egg blue carton.