Thursday, September 12, 2013

Eggs 1,2,3: Who Will the Babies Be?

Summer sped by for me - how about for you?  Some things in our lives stay the same all summer.  Gloria is in a year-round preschool/daycare, and obviously our general schedule each week stays the same.  But in Montana, summer is so short, and we took advantage of it this summer by packing in swim lessons, tending our vegetable garden, and outdoor time.  One thing we have enjoyed doing each summer is taking part in our local library's summer reading program.  It's called "Four to Score", and we record the titles and what we liked best about four books to earn a prize.  The sheet asks for three fiction books and one nonfiction title.  The librarians tell us that young children don't actually have to read nonfiction.  But you know me - I am such a nonfiction lover, and I want to read nonfiction with the girls.

It isn't always easy to find nonfiction that appeals to Gloria, though.  At 4 1/2, she is doing some reading on her own (Dinosaur vs. the Library was one she read to her preschool class recently), and she has pretty limited interest in the subjects Frances wants to read about.  Also, much of the nonfiction that Frances checks out is too long and detailed for Gloria.  So when Eggs 1,2,3 came up in my blog pile last week, I was really excited to share it with both Frances and Gloria.

When I first got Eggs 1,2,3: Who Will the Babies Be? as a nomination for the Cybils last year, I couldn't wait to read it.  I had reviewed Janet Halfmann's previous Cybils nomination, Star of the Sea  and all of us loved it.  So I had a feeling that we would all like this one too.  And the rest of the Nonfiction Picture Book panel agreed, making this a finalist for the Nonfiction Picture Book award.  Sadly, it didn't win, but I'd like to focus on why this is a perfect preschool-level book.

Eggs 1,2,3: Who Will the Babies Be? combines several ways of looking at information in a format that's very accessible for young children.  First of all, the book is a counting book.  Each double-page spread has an enormous number on the left-hand side of the page, corresponding to the number of eggs on that spread.  On the first page, Halfmann sets the tone.  There is a sentence describing the egg and its habitat.  Then she asks the reader to guess "Who will the baby be?"  Young readers can look at the illustration on the opposite page for clues.  Again, Thompson has carefully considered the readers and given fairly obvious indications of the answer.  Then they can open a sturdy flap to reveal the answer.  The number is repeated inside the flap: "5 wiggly glowworms, their tiny tails shining, growing up to be fireflies."  The eggs increase in number from 1 to 10.  And the number of eggs is appropriate for each animal, bird or reptile, which is no easy feat.  At the end of the book, there is one last chance to count all the eggs, and inside the flap, all the babies.

The book seems deceptively simple.  But Halfmann and Thompson are working some real magic here.  First of all, the sentence that gives clue to the egg's inhabitant including important information for the reader.  Those sentences might divulge details about the creature's habitat "a land of ice and snow", what the egg looks like "tiny and round", and whether the parents are involved.  The illustrations are crucial to helping readers identify the baby, and those might include details of the parents or habitat as well.  The eggs, too, are always prominent.  Once the flap is opened then readers see the babies once they hatch, as well as learning their identity and the specific name of the baby, if applicable: "6 babies called fry, eating, eating, eating, and soon they are fish".

There are many things I like about this book, and one of those things is its suitability for many audiences.  It's a natural learning tool whether used in small groups or read with a parent. But it comes alive when used in a storytime.  Listeners can participate by giving the numbers, counting the number of eggs and babies and guessing who might be inside the egg.  It is also a nonfiction book that reads more like a story.  The information has been incorporated into this format so seamlessly, which makes me appreciate the effort that must have gone in to writing this text.  

Finally, one of the best things about the book is the design.  The flaps are extremely sturdy and will hold up to repeated (and rough) readings.  The flaps also open in different directions to keep the experience interesting and fresh.  

One other thing I'd like to mention about this book is that there is no back matter in this title.  While I usually look very carefully at the back matter, this is one title where it is appropriate not to have back matter.  Halfmann has included enough detail for preschoolers in the actual text.  Young children don't need to use a bibliography as a jumping-off point for additional research.  They've been given everything they need already, and I admire the simplicity here.

The illustrations are collaged, with textured papers and layered cut-paper assemblies.  The art walks a fine line between realism and collage very successfully.  The collaged elements add depth to the pictures, but Thompson is careful to use natural colors and replicate the creatures exactly.  The eggs look very real as well, and you can almost feel their exteriors as you look at the pages.  The turtle eggs look tough and leathery; the tadpole eggs really seem encased in shimmering jelly.

This is such a terrific book.  The eggs are fascinating, and so are the animals that lay them.  Halfmann and Thompson have done a masterful job bringing the topic to life for the youngest readers.  I highly recommend it!

Eggs 1,2,3: Who Will the Babies Be? Janet Halfmann; art by Betsy Thompson.  Blue Apple Books, 2012.

Note: I am on the Cybils Nonfiction Picture Book panel, but this blog post does not represent the committee's thoughts about the book.  It only represents my personal ideas and thoughts.

sent by the publisher in consideration for the Cybils

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