January 30, 2014
(+++) SPRINGTIME SPECIALTIES
Ten Eggs in a Nest. By Marilyn Sadler. Illustrated by Michael Fleming. Random House. $9.99.
Max Makes a Cake. By Michelle Edwards. Illustrated by Charles Santoso. Random House. $17.99.
Here are two coming-of-spring books for kids ages 3-7 – but not just any kids. Ten Eggs in a Nest is a “Bright and Early” book, which means its simple story is written in super-simple and repetitive language, the aim being to have parents read the book to young children – who will then become intrigued by the pictures and the large, easy-to-read words, and will use the book as a springboard to reading on their own. This is a “don’t count your chickens before they hatch” book with an amusing twist that turns it into a counting book as well. The easy-to-follow story line has Red Rooster excited about becoming a father after Gwen the hen lays eggs – but Gwen says it’s bad luck to count the eggs before they hatch, so Red Rooster doesn’t know how many chicks there will be. When one pecks its way through the shell of its egg, Red goes to the market to buy the chick a worm. But then two more chicks appear – Red needs two more worms. And then three additional chicks show up, and then four more, so Red goes to the market again and again, his trips described in virtually the same language each time, making it easy for pre-readers and the youngest readers to follow along. Eventually Red, Gwen and their 10 chicks start to settle into their nest and, of course, everything ends happily, providing young children with a pleasant platform for an early reading adventure.
Intended specifically for Jewish children in the same age range, Max Makes a Cake is about the springtime celebration of Passover – which coincides, in Max’s house, with his mother’s birthday. Max and his father want to make a surprise birthday cake for Mommy, but baby Trudy keeps acting up, so Daddy has to leave the kitchen to settle her down for a nap. Max waits as patiently as he can, until he finally can stand it no more and decides to create a cake by himself. Since he cannot use the oven on his own – but, this being Passover, there is plenty of matzoh around – Max concocts a matzoh-based cake with frosting made from cream cheese and jam. Of course, the cake is a big success, and everything ends well; and the book weaves information on Passover, matzoh, the biblical story of the Jews’ flight from Egypt, and the Four Questions asked at the seder meal into the cake-making story. There is even a recipe for the matzoh-based cake at the end. Jewish families are clearly the expected audience for this book, although non-Jewish parents wanting an easy-to-understand introduction to Jewish traditions for their children’s Jewish friends will find it enjoyable as well. The cake-making story is simply told and simply illustrated, and the back of the book provides a one-paragraph version of the Passover tale. However, the Four Questions asked at the seder table, to which the cake story refers and which are also mentioned at the book’s end, are never given in full or explained, limiting the book’s usefulness as a teaching tool. As a result, Max Makes a Cake is more for fun than for learning.