Fuse #8

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Review of the Day: An Egg Is Quiet

You know how it is. A wave of newly published children’s books hits bookstore shelves nationwide and somehow you miss some of the lovelier offerings in the mix. Basically, by the time you’ve gotten your bearings and have waded through most of what’s out there, a fresh and entirely NEW crop of books fill the shelves and you’re left wondering what might have eluded your grasp. What did I personally miss? I missed “An Egg Is Quiet”, and I am thoroughly ashamed of the fact. Now I have come to right a great wrong and heap healthy scads of praise on this most deserving book. Beautiful and informative all at once, it brings scientific information to the kiddies in a form that both they and their very happy parents will appreciate.

Before we get to the words in this book, let’s just open the cover. Ahhhh. See that? I’m talking about the endpapers. They’re blue and artfully speckled. Okay, let’s move on. Turn another page and now what do you see? Two pages of eggs suspended against a white background. Now we enter into the book and we learn all sorts of things about these yolky wonders. We see a massive variety in shell colors, from the magenta-tinged black-capped mockingthrush to the deep sea-blue green of the glossy ibis. We see how eggs can be different shapes, sizes, and have variegated patterns. They’re even textured differently, and in the book we see the gooey, rubbery, hard, smooth, and rough eggs of the world. Old dinosaur eggs and the development of embryos lead up to the final discovery. Yes, an egg may be quiet. But just wait until it hatches and then just listen to the noise. The final two pages before the endpapers show all kinds of insects, birds, and other egg-hatching creatures taking a kind of final bow.

What I respect about Dianna Aston is that she doesn’t limit her scope. It would have been the most logical thing in the world to focus this book on bird eggs and go no further. Instead, she’s not afraid of being inclusive. The section on the shapes of eggs even shows a perfectly round sea turtle egg, next to an oval ladybird beetle, next to a pointy common murre, next to a truly disturbing can’t-get-it-out-of-my-brain-no-matter-how-hard-I-try dogfish egg of the tubular persuasion. Variety is the name of the game here and Aston has the situation truly well in hand. She was only half the team, though. Just as much credit, then, must be handed over to illustrator Sylvia Long.

First of all, paint me baffled when I discovered that the only materials that went into the creation of “An Egg Is Quiet” were listed merely as “ink and watercolor”. Now, I have seen watercolors in my days. They are sloppy and messy and they don’t leave much room for the kind of elegant white space you find in this book. Yet on closer inspection there was no denying it. Long has mastered the art of the tiny watercolor detail. Whether she’s tracing the green sinews of the passion vine butterfly’s home or embedding the tiniest of speckles on the egg of a southern cassowary, the meticulousness you find in this book only adds to its appeal. There is a realism to these images that never becomes so scientific as to render them dull (if that makes any sense). Best of all are the tiny labels found on each and every page that describe what it is we are seeing and that have delicious names like sooty tern, paradise riflebird, and hepatic tanager. There are even notes that for the sake of accuracy will make it clear when, “all eggs on this page larger than actual size.”

Something you may have missed when you gave this book a quick once over: Remember when you opened the book and saw the two pages of eggs? Now remember when you were at the end of the book and you saw the two pages of birds, insects, and sea critters? Well don’t look now, but a lot of those eggs and hatchlings match up. Not all and not perfectly (unless someone can locate for me the hatched katydid) but enough that any kid who loves a little “I Spy” will be flipping back and forth and forth and back like there’s no tomorrow.

The trend in children’s publishing right now can be summed up in a single word: Foil. Shiny shiny foil. Whether they’re reprinting “The Cat and the Hat” to make it glitter or they’re pushing the insidious “Rainbow Fish” on innocent children, foil is the new black. What everyone should be doing, though, is taking a page out of Chronicle Books’ ... uh ... book. “An Egg Is Quiet” has foil on its cover, but it’s supremely subtle. The cursive letters of the title have a blue sheen with just a hint of green with the light hits them correctly. Maybe it’s silly to compliment a book on what it hasn’t done rather than what it has, but when it comes to attracting the eye of glitter-happy tots, this is undoubtedly the most sublime use of sparkles I’ve ever seen.

Oh, it’s a joy. A factual informative delight. Kids will pore over it for hours and, once in bed, their parents will soon be doing the same. If you know a kid with a scientific bent, or at the very least a healthy interest in the natural world, consider this the perfect gift. A divine alignment of text and image.


At 12:49 AM , Blogger Elaine Magliaro said...

This is the word that comes to my mind when I look at AN EGG IS QUIET: elegant. The language is lyrical and the watercolor illustrations are exquisite. What
a wonderful book for young naturalists.
I have the great fortune to live not far from an independent children's book shop. The owner is a former children's librarian. She recommended AN EGG IS QUIET to me several weeks ago. It is definitely a gem of a nonfiction picture book. Thanks for your excellent review.

At 4:26 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wanted to let you know that through Dec 10th, Egg is Quiet (and all Chronicle Books) are 40% off at chroniclebooks.com.


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