Friday, July 29, 2011

Book Review: Three Rotten Eggs, by Gregory Maguire, Illustrated by Elaine Clayton

     "Thud grabbed the hen under his arm. The hen clucked and struggled. 'Tough it out, Doozy,' said Thud, and slammed his way across the boards into the store.
     'Well, lookee-see,' said Bucky Clumpett. 'It's the smilingest boy in town trying to squeeze all the air out of a pair of chicken lungs. I know this is Vermont, son, but you can't bring a chicken into this store. Not good practice when we're trying to sell food to the public.'
     'I need your help,' said Thud in a voice that sounded as if he wasn't asking for help but demanding it."

In the very small town of Hamlet, Vermont, there are strange goings-on. A mysterious stranger's motorcycle is hit by lightning while it's parked behind Clumpett's General Store. The motorcycle has a briefcase strapped to it. Inside that briefcase are genetically altered chicken eggs, only three of which survive the lightning strike. Then Thud Tweed stomps his way into town, telling a different outrageous story every time someone asks about him, his family, or his past. His very wealthy and very aloof mother, Mildred Tweed, is equally puzzling - fully expecting her boy Thud to be kicked out of school, and ready with a blank check for what she is certain are the inevitable damages to come.

While the town is busy sifting through all this puzzling stuff, Trooper Crawdad is trying to puzzle out a couple of mysteries of his own: who is this fellow who's all fired up about a briefcase he reports has been stolen, and how could chicken eggs - as the fellow claims - possibly be a matter of national security?

For Teachers and Librarians:
Three Rotten Eggs has so many possibilities in your classroom, you won't know where to start. In the broadest sense, it is a story about the importance of being trustworthy, the politics of groups, asserting your individuality - whether you're part of a group or not, and that age-old question: nature, or nurture (once a "bad kid," always a "bad kid")?

In the detailed sense, there's not enough space to list all you can do with this book, but here are a few ideas to try: 
  • Chickens Unit (care, feeding, life cycle, types)
  • Mini-unit on small towns and small-town life in the state of Vermont
  • Trust/truth (What is it? How does the presence or absence of trust/truth affect people and relationships? Is it easy to be truthful? Once a liar, always a liar? Or can people change? What about cheating? And how do good intentions factor into this?)
  • A Mystery/Secrets Unit (Everybody's trying to find out something in this book. And several people are harboring secrets. Who are these folks, and what are each of them trying to figure out/hide? Why?)
  • Theme: Change (Eggs to chickens, "bad egg" to good, wary to trusting, winter to spring, exclusive to inclusive)
  • Genetic experimentation (pros, cons, ethical implications)

For Parents, Grandparents, and Caregivers:
Three Rotten Eggs has a lot to like, and a lot for you and your kids to think and talk about. But the serious topics of trustworthiness, being part of a group - or not, "bad kids" - or not, and even genetic experimentation are presented in a safe, non-threatening, sometimes touching, sometimes funny, but always straightforward way. It may help your kids see difficult kids they know in a new light. It may help them work out difficult choices they are facing in their own lives. It will definitely make them - and you - laugh. A lot. And probably? By the end, they'll find they've learned an awful lot about chickens, too.

For the Kids:
Three Rotten Eggs, part of the Hamlet Chronicles series, is full of questions. Questions that need answers. Like, why did that motorcycle guy have a briefcase full of eggs strapped to the back of his bike? What's so special about those eggs that a state trooper keeps coming around asking about them? What kind of chickens are gonna hatch out of those eggs? Why does new kid Thud Tweed tell so many outrageous lies about himself and his parents? What's the deal with Thud's mysterious mom, Mildred Tweed? And, are Miss Earth and Mayor Grass dating, or not?

If finding out answers to those questions isn't enough, check these things out: you'll learn more than you ever expected to know about chickens, the streets in town have names like Squished Toad Road, and there are characters with names like Theckla Mustard. Best of all, it's a book that will make you laugh out loud. A lot. Really. Really really.

For Everyone Else:
Though Three Rotten Eggs is a book written for the 9-12 year-old set, it is one of those wonderful titles that will make both kids and adults laugh out loud. And despite yourself, no matter what your age, the story will make you do a lot of thinking, in-between all the giggles and guffaws.

Wrapping Up:
Three Rotten Eggs is not to be missed. And if you like it so much that it leaves you wanting more, you're in luck - it's part of a series of seven books: the Hamlet Chronicles series.

Title: Three Rotten Eggs
Author: Gregory Maguire
Illustrator: Elaine Clayton
Pages: 192
Reading Level: Ages 9-12
Publisher and Date: Clarion Books, March 18, 2002
Edition: Hardcover, library copy
Language: English
Published In: United States
Price: $16.00
ISBN-10: 0-168-09655-8
ISBN-13: 978-0618096558


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