Caldecott Honor and Theodor Seuss Honor book First The Egg

Jan 29, 2010 (Updated Nov 3, 2011)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Clever combination of art, page engineering and text, Age-appropriate introduction to transformations

Cons:No cons, this is as close to perfect as an early-childhood book can get.

The Bottom Line: First the Egg is a quality book that immediately wins the respect of teachers and adults, but it also excites young readers.

Sometimes the Caldecott Honor and Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor books are obvious from the first turn of a page. This is one of those moments.

While facilitating a group of pre-school teachers through life cycles using Lois Ehlert's book, Waiting for Wings they paid me back with an introduction to another book. Ehlert's fabulous book combined art, a clever design and page engineering with facts to introduce young readers to the magic of metamorphosis. Well, one special teacher in the class agreed, Ehlert's book was terrific and that she had used it but her recent favorite is a Caldecott Honor Book and Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Book and she confessed it was a winner with her teaching team.  This book, First the Egg, quickly became one of my favorites.

For so many reasons.
This is one of those intelligent picture books that does not rely upon a lot of text, just a few key words.

"First the EGG
then the CHICKEN"

Author Laura Vaccaro Seeger moves this book about transformations and life cycles through her bold art. Employing a minimalist style with a brightly colored and "textured" background we see a chicken hatch out of an egg and on the following page we see the adult.

But the art isn't all that is brilliant.  
"First" appears, all alone on the first page. It's against a dark yellow background that begs the eye to tempt the finger to touch the paper that resembles burlap.  The second page reads "the EGG" and it's against a bright, textured page washed in child-friendly colors of dark orange and burnt umber. The egg, appearing bright white, becomes more exciting when you realize it's a hole in the page that's cut the shape of an egg.  Flip the page and the bright white of the egg is actually provided by the white feathers of the adult.  Another page flip and the hole in the page is filled with bright yellow and we see the egg shells broken and lying to the side around a newly hatched chicken. The shape of the hole conforms to the shape of the chick's body. This paper engineering combines with the art, concepts, and text to create a quality book.

This same approach is used throughout Seeger's book.  The repetition begins,

"First the TADPOLE
then the FROG"

Again colors and a cut shape (the shape of a tadpole) takes the reader through the frog's transformation.

Not all transformations are life cycles. She introduces young readers to a seed that produces a flower, a caterpillar that progresses through a chrysalis stage into a butterfly, and then it gets really interesting with a page full of words.

"First the WORD
then the STORY"

She now introduces young readers to the metamorphosis of a story and a picture, which could lead to a discussion of an appropriate next entry, an implied entry,

"First the CHICKEN
then the BOOK"

That's not how the book concludes except for in my mind, but this was nothing short of spectacular. When I first picked up a copy at the library (I like to prove to teachers in my workshops that they can find terrific books in the public library) I had read the book twice before getting home.  I absolutely love clever books that integrate thoughtful engineering into the design.  Not only do they excite kids, they excite teachers and this book brilliantly introduces young learners to transformations beginning with the concept of a chicken's metamorphosis.

Now when I conduct a workshop with preschool teachers, and we use a life-cycle activity as an icebreaker, we follow it up with a few minutes exploring possible books to support the lesson. Laura Vaccaro Seeger's First the Egg will always accompany my use of Ehlert's book.  This is a quality book that immediately wins the respect of teachers and adults, but it also motivates the young reader who busily locates the changes. This is why some young children grow up loving books. Multiple readings will have them predicting. The teachers in that first workshop enthusiastically shared that this was a popular book with their three to five year olds, but I could tell it was also a favorite for these 23 to 50 year olds.  I highly recommend First the Egg but fortunately, the Caldecott and Theodor Seuss Geisel selection committees beat me to it.

then the HONOR"

That's how it should be and my recommendation extends to suggesting that you explore Seeger's other books that target the young learner. Consider also Animal Eggs by Dawn Cusick and Joanne O'Sullivan for an age-appropriate look into the mysteries and marvels of egg laying and protecting behaviors. 

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