February 16, 2017
Egg. By Kevin Henkes. Greenwillow/HarperCollins. $17.99.
The Story of the Easter Bunny. By Katherine Tegen. Illustrated by Sally Anne Lambert. HarperFestival. $7.99.
Fancy Nancy and the Missing Easter Bunny. By Jane O’Connor. Illustrations by Robin Preiss Glasser and Carolyn Bracken. HarperFestival. $4.99.
Take the same topic and the same age range, and authors will come up with a wide variety of ways to entertain children. For example, if the topic is eggs and the age range is 4-8, Kevin Henkes shows one utterly delightful way to get kids interested in his simple, simply titled and simply wonderful Egg. The first pages are divided into four equal parts, each displaying an egg of a different color: pink, yellow, blue and green. Then cracks develop in three of the eggs – but not the green one. Then birds hatch from three eggs – but not the green one. And then the little birds say good-bye and fly away – leaving the green egg still waiting. Really waiting. One page shows it 16 times in 16 identical squares, each with the word “waiting” at the bottom. So the birds come back to investigate, and soon they go “peck-peck-peck” at the green egg – another page divided into 16 boxes shows how long they continue doing it – and then, finally, the green egg goes “crack,” and out comes, as Henkes writes, a “surprise!” It is not a baby bird at all – it is an adorable little alligator. But it scares the birds, and they fly quickly away, leaving the alligator to be shown in four equal-size square panels on one page as “alone,” “sad,” “lonely” and “miserable.” Poor little gator! But guess what? The pink bird flies by to see what is going on. And then the yellow bird comes over to take a look. And then the blue one shows up. And then all three fly down to perch on the now-happy alligator’s back and become, as Henkes puts it simply, “friends.” The end? Not quite – because the four friends glance up at the peach-colored sun, and as the end of the book approaches, the sun transforms into – an egg! And who knows what will happen next? Young readers – and pre-readers – will be charmed with the story, the winning illustrations, and the chance to watch the tale continue: the second-to-last page of the book says “the end…” (complete with ellipsis), and then the very, very last page contains only the word “maybe” beneath a picture of a peach-colored bird flying away. The whole book is inventive in design and storytelling mode, and the way it invites kids to participate in the story through the multiply divided pages and the “what next?” ending makes Egg all the more special.
Eggs are, of course, associated with Easter, and a very different approach to them for the same 4-8 age range is the one offered by Katherine Tegen and Sally Anne Lambert in The Story of the Easter Bunny, originally published in 2005 and now available as a board book. This is traditionally a format for the very youngest children, but not in this case, since the narrative is quite extensive – the contrast with the few words in Egg is immediately apparent. The book offers a pretty little freshly minted legend, in which an elderly man and woman make and color Easter eggs, year after year, as their pet rabbit watches – “eggs the color of daffodils and of soft new leaves and of robins’ eggs and of violets.” The old people weave baskets during winter, and make chocolate eggs in early spring as the snow melts. And on Easter, the man and woman bring every child in town “a straw basket filled with Easter eggs, as they did every year. And the little rabbit watched.” In time, the rabbit starts helping the man and woman prepare all the Easter goodies, and some time afterwards, when the man and woman become too old and frail to handle the work, the rabbit takes on the entire job, moving out of town to the woods and enlisting the help of other rabbits to get everything done in time for Easter. It is a pretty story and a prettily illustrated one, a fable created by Tegen and Lambert and as good an explanation as any to use when young children ask why rabbits, of all creatures, are delivering eggs. This is a warm and cuddly story whose board-book format makes it easy to handle for small hands – and the prose is gentle enough so it could even be used as a bedtime book to lull little ones to sleep.
Something brighter and more upbeat, also with an eggs-and-Easter focus and also for ages 4-8, comes in the form of Fancy Nancy and the Missing Easter Bunny, which is based on the series by Jane O’Connor and Robin Preiss Glasser but has only a cover by Glasser – the interior illustrations are by Carolyn Bracken. This is also a sticker book: 33 of them are included. The main attraction for Fancy Nancy fanciers, though, will be the story, which is a typical one of light misunderstanding, minor misbehavior and rapid forgiveness by Nancy’s always-understanding parents. The Easter Bunny of the title is a rabbit named Nibbles, class pet of Nancy’s little sister, JoJo. Nibbles is home with Nancy and the family for Easter weekend. Nancy, as adorably overdressed as usual and with an Easter basket that is equally overdone, is all set for the kids’ egg hunt; she takes Nibbles out of the cage so her friends, Bree and Freddy, can play with the bunny; but then, in the excitement when the egg hunt starts, Nancy forgets to lock the cage after putting Nibbles back in it, and the rabbit escapes. So instead of searching for eggs, Nancy has to do a Nibbles hunt. She does eventually find the rabbit, and of course her mom forgives her for leaving the cage unlocked – but all the eggs have been found, leaving Nancy with none. To the rescue come her friends and JoJo, who re-hide some eggs so Nancy can search for them, and of course everything ends happily. Fancy Nancy and the Missing Easter Bunny is a pleasant enough backyard adventure, if not one of the most-engaging Fancy Nancy books. The stickers are nice to have, but they are a supplement to the story rather than an integral part of it. Kids who already enjoy Fancy Nancy will like this short spring-and-holiday-themed book, but it is not likely to garner Nancy any new fans.