This summer, every Monday and Wednesday, I am hosting a series of guest posts here on my blog, a series called Middle Grade Memories. In this series, authors, agents, librarians, and editors talk about their favorite childhood middle grade books. I’m beyond thrilled to share their middle grade memories with you.
Below is the fourth post in the series, by Greg Leitich Smith, author of the MG book Chronal Engine: A Prehistoric Time-Travel Adventure (in stores now!), and the upcoming Little Green Men at the Mercury Inn. Read on as Greg talks about one of his favorite childhood middle grade books, The Enormous Egg. Then check out the giveaway!
First, Greg has provided us with a quick summary of The Enormous Egg:
Twelve-year-old Nate Twitchell lives with his parents and sister in the small town of Freedom, New Hampshire. One day, at the beginning of summer, one of their hens lays the eponymous egg. It’s about fifteen inches in circumference and feels kind of leathery to the touch. Naturally, Nate decides to see what will hatch from it.
After six weeks of tending to the egg (the hen isn’t able to turn it like she would a normal egg), it finally hatches into a baby Triceratops. Serendipitously, Dr. Ziemer, a paleontologist from the National Museum, is one of the “summer people,” vacationing at a lake house nearby. Under the doctor’s supervision, Nate spends the rest of summer tending “Uncle Beazley,” cutting large quantities of grass for him to eat, studying his rate of growth, and protecting him from hordes of scientists, publicity seekers, and opportunists.
Finally, as it turns to fall, with Uncle Beazley roughly the size of a rhinoceros, Nate agrees with Dr. Ziemer’s suggestion that they relocate Uncle Beazley to the National Museum. Eventually, Uncle Beazley is taken to the National Zoo. Unfortunately, this catches the attention of a senator who is launching an austerity campaign and who feels that dinosaurs are a waste of money: outmoded, inefficient, and un-American…
I remember finding The Enormous Egg on one of the bookshelves in our basement rec room. We always had books – both my parents are tremendous readers – and these would’ve included hand-me-down books from my cousins, as well as school book club books. I don’t have any memory of why we had that specific book, but I remember picking it off the shelf and thinking — with its cover picture of a nest with an enormous broken eggshell and boy and hen staring in astonishment — it looked interesting. And, of course, the fact that it involved dinosaurs…
I loved the voice – it’s told in first person by Nate as if he were writing an account of the summer’s events – and Nate seemed like a kid I might’ve known. I also remember thinking it would be awesome to spend a couple months living at the Smithsonian, to say nothing of having my very own dinosaur as a pet.
One of the things I remember most, though, was that the “hand wave” justifying the existence of the egg was the idea that birds are not all that far away, evolutionarily speaking, from dinosaurs and reptiles. This was a new idea to me and, indeed, it’s since come out from the scientific mainstream that birds are dinosaurs. When I was a teen and I first read the articles suggesting this (and then read Robert Bakker’s The Dinosaur Heresies, which popularized the idea), I remember thinking, “Well, of course! It’s from The Enormous Egg!”
Upon re-reading, it holds up fairly well for a book that was first published sixty years ago. The science generally stands the test of time, although there have been some changes in our view of dinosaurs and a couple of exercises of artistic license by Butterworth.
From a writing standpoint, there are long stretches of narration, without immediate action or dialogue, but the voice is engaging and the book is set up as if it was a written account, so it mostly works. I suspect that these wouldn’t have made it past editorial in their current form today. The illustrations are charming and don’t look out-of-date. Finally, there is a lot of very funny, wry humor (which is one of the reason the narrative stretches work).
In any event, The Enormous Egg is one of the few books that show (and showed) dinosaurs and humans interacting in a somewhat realistic fashion and is a classic of the “bring-the-dinosaurs-to-us” genre, well worth a read today.
And if you want to see what a Triceratops would look like in Washington, D.C., a life-sized model of Uncle Beazley stands today in the National Zoo, outside a garden of prehistoric plants.
Greg Leitich Smith is the award-winning author of three novels and a picture book. His latest novel, CHRONAL ENGINE (Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012, for ages 9+), is the story of three teens who travel back to the Age of Dinosaurs to rescue their kidnapped sister and solve a family mystery. His next novel is the middle grade LITTLE GREEN MEN AT THE MERCURY INN (Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan, fall 2013), a story of three young teens at a motel in Cocoa Beach and what happens in the days after a manned launch is scrubbed due to the presence of a UFO over Cape Canaveral. For more information, and for a free downloadable Chronal Engine Activity Kit, visit Greg at gregleitichsmith.com.
To celebrate Greg’s post, he is generously giving away a SIGNED copy of his MG book, Chronal Engine, as well as a copy of The Enormous Egg! Wow, thanks, Greg!
To win this awesome giveaway, simply comment below and tell us about your experience with The Enormous Egg! Have you read and loved it? If you haven’t — like me — are you super interested in reading it now (like me)? If you have read it, how did it influence you? What are your middle grade memories?
For an extra entry, tweet about this post and include the link to your tweet in your comment.
This giveaway begins now and ends Sunday, June 10 at 1:59 p.m. EST. The winner will be announced shortly thereafter. This giveaway is U.S./Canada only.
EDITED 6/10: This giveaway is now closed.Congrats to the winner . . .
Congratulations to the winner! And thanks to all who read and commented. Stay tuned for many more Middle Grade Memories giveaways throughout the summer!
Love Middle Grade Memories? Check back on Mondays and Wednesdays throughout the summer for more in this series!
You can view previous Middle Grade Memories posts below: