Tuesday, March 22, 2011

First the Egg, by Laura Vaccaro Seeger (2007)

First the Egg (Caldecott Honor Book and Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Book (Awards))Laura Vaccaro Seeger is one of my very favorite millennial author-illustrators, and so I'm glad that First the Egg has been in heavy rotation, by Miss E's choice.  Her book fall into one of my favorite children's lit categories, the "deceptively simple," seeming basic, understated images and text that are both powerful and profound.  One of the greatest delights of Seeger's books---especially when read for the first time---is her ingenious use of die-cuts that not only surprise us on every page but make us see what we've just seen in a wholly different way.

In 2008, First the Egg was selected as an Honor book by both the Caldecott and Theodore Geisel award committees (the latter given to exceptional emergent readers, a very tricky category to succeed in for many reasons).  Indeed, this book is perfect not only for "emergent" readers but for children old enough to "read" a book through memorization and visual cues, which is probably why Miss E chooses it so often.  It begins with the phrase, "First the EGG, then the CHICKEN," unfolding slowly over two double-page spreads, with key pictorial elements emerging through clever die-cuts.  The book---essentially a meditation on the wonder of transformation---continues in this pattern by showing other metamorphoses in the natural world (tadpoles into frogs, seeds into flowers) before progressing into the creative process itself (words into stories, paint into pictures) and finally coming full circle.  At each step along the way, the story invites us to move back and forth between "first" and "then" and to recognize and delight in the interconnectedness of these seemingly disparate elements.

Miss E's favorite page:  She returns again and again to the page that is, I think, the most profound in the book, one that reflects on the process by which we come to understand written language and to know the world.  Against a textured background of green paint on canvas appear 10 rows of what appears to be random letters and punctuation.  On closer inspection, though, "real" words are embedded in random "words," sense hidden in nonsense, inviting us to interact and to discover. 

P.S.  Vaccaro Seeger's website is wonderful.  In particular, see her "Educators/Kids" section for a creative process narrative about her recent What If? as well as for instructions for drawing Bear and Dog (among other goodies).

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