The Talking Eggs is adapted from a Creole folktale from the American South, and authored by Robert San Souci, with extraordinary illustrations by Jerry Pinkney. It is a 1989 Caldecott Honor Book.
The story is whimsical and engaging. Reminiscent of Cinderella, this tale begins with a portrayal of the harsh family life of a sweet and innocent young girl named, Blanche. She lives with her rather wicked mother and malicious sister, Rose.
The mother favors her sinister daughter and treats Blanche horribly. Blanche is forced to do all the housework while her cruel and greedy mother and sister sit on the porch blabbering about their plans to get rich, move to the city, and live a fabulous life.
One day while Blanche is fetching water for the family, she meets a frail old woman suffering from extreme thirst. Blanche kindly helps this stranger by sharing her well water with her. When she returns home, Blanche is beaten and berated by her barbaric mother and sister. She runs off into the woods in fear of further torment.
The young girl then has a second encounter with the old woman. This woman now comes to Blanche’s rescue. She tells Blanche that she may accompany her to her house in the woods to eat and to sleep, but makes Blanche promise that she will not laugh at any strange things she may see while at her home. Blanche gives her word of honor that she will refrain from laughing.
The visit to the woman’s house is delightful and filled with fanciful, wild and peculiar sights including blue and green chickens, a two-headed cow, well-dressed dancing rabbits and of course, as the title of the book implies, chatty eggs.
Blanche enjoys her stay at the whimsical home. The girl shows great respect to the woman and keeps her promise not to laugh throughout the visit. When it is time to leave, the woman promises Blanche that things will soon get better for the girl. Blanche’s integrity and good nature are richly rewarded when the old woman tells her to fetch certain talking eggs from the chicken house and to throw them over her shoulder. Wonderful surprises ensue!
When Blanche returns home and tells her mother and sister of her fantastic experience, they of course want to receive the same treatment. The mother sends the mean daughter into the woods to find the old woman.
The lazy, sharp-tongued Rose does meet up with the woman in the woods, and not surprisingly, she is disrespectful and cruel to the poor, elderly lady.
I won’t be a spoiler and reveal what happens in the end, but let’s just say that justice is served!
The story easily captured the interest of my two sons who were very amused by the colorful descriptions contained in the text, (“Some were hopping around on one leg, some running about on three or four or even more. These chickens didn’t cluck, but whistled like mockingbirds”). Equally appealing are the vibrant watercolor illustrations.
I found it very refreshing that the book did not contain typical sex-role stereotypes found in many classic children’s stories, including Cinderella. That is, the standard “rescuer theme” which portrays weak and frail female characters in dire need of saving by a strong, superior male.
It is a nice diversion from the knight-in-shining-armor storyline. In this tale, Blanche is able to lift herself out of victimhood as a result of her own kindness, bravery and integrity.
The story manages to represent the Creole culture’s morals and values such as kindness, being true to one’s word, and generosity in a gender-neutral way.
Here the boys describe their favorite parts of the story:
Here is my little guy sharing the talking eggs craft project idea he created – and being silly:
Note: This story may not be suitable for younger (or very sensitive) children unless they are comfortable with the distinction between reality and fantasy, or make-believe. The treatment Blanche receives from her mother and sister is a bit brutal. Also, there are two occasions where the old woman’s head is removed which may be viewed as creepy or scary.