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In 1970, Lillie Patterson received the first Coretta Scott King Book Award at the annual meeting of the American Library Association. The award honors African American authors and illustrators who exemplify the standards set by Dr. and Mrs. King in their struggle for civil rights.
Robert San Souci’s The Talking Eggs was the 1990 Illustrator Honor Book. The book reshapes and retells the classic story of the mistreated child winning out over the favored one.
The Creole folktale shares the story of sweet, compassionate Blanche’s struggle to please her mother, who ignores the hard work to fawn and favor Rose, Blanche’s selfish, mean sister. Sent to the well to fetch water, Blanche assists a thirsty old woman who eventually invites the girl home with her, where they see very strange things. Obedient to the instructions to take only the eggs that invited her to do so, Blanche leaves the old woman’s house with plain eggs which, when cracked, produce great treasures. Greedy Rose plots with her mother to go to the house and get more jewels and prizes. After refusing to help the woman draw water, Rose grabs the prettiest eggs, ignoring the command to leave behind those that say, “Don’t take me." When she hurls them to the ground, instead of treasure, Rose finds pests and snakes, rather than a treasure trove.
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Set the Stage
Begin by telling students that they will be reading a story of a kind sister and a mean sister and ask with which other stories with that idea they are familiar. Discuss some of the stories, including various Cinderella stories.
Ask students to name some character traits of “good" characters. Create a web of their responses. Do the same with traits of “bad" characters. Save the webs for analyzing the characters in The Talking Eggs.
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Read and Understand the Story
Read the story aloud or ask students to read it themselves.
Discuss the genre of the story -- folktale. Ask students to describe the general characteristics of a folktale and to tell which parts of this specific story match those.
Ask students to describe the setting of the story and to summarize the plot. Assess their understanding by allowing them to create an illustrated timeline (story map) of the key events in the plot.
Talk about motifs in literature -- those recurring and symbolic objects, persons or places that help to develop the mood or the theme of the story. Ask students what they think the motif in The Talking Eggs might be; elicit that the magical objects -- the eggs -- are a common literature motif. Discuss what the magical objects usually symbolize or signal; point out, if necessary, that they usually provide extra strength, courage or reward for the protagonist, while raining chaos or disaster on the heads of the evil characters. Other examples might include Aladdin and the Magic Lamp and Strega Nona.
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Explore the Story
Create four-door books by folding a sheet of paper in half “hamburger" (width) style. Open the paper and fold each side to the center to make two flaps. Cut each one in thirds to make six flaps.
On the top two flaps, students should write, “Who Am I?" Under the left-hand flap, they write Blanche’s name and, using the web created earlier, list several character traits associated with the girl. They also add supporting evidence from the story to “prove" their assertion. Under the right flap, they do the same to describe Rose.
Students now label the middle two flaps, “What Happened Before I Got the Eggs?" Under the left flap, they write and illustrate what happened when Blanche went to the house, while the right gets the same about when Rose was there.
Finally, the students write, “What Happened After I Got the Eggs?" on the last two flaps. They write and illustrate what happened when Blanche and Rose broke the talking eggs they took from the hen house.
Follow up by asking students to write a letter to each of the sisters, explaining how they feel about each girl’s actions. Extend the writing experience by allowing them to tell what they would have done if offered magic, talking eggs.
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Connect the Story
Provide several multicultural versions of the same folktale (Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughter, Cinderella, Rockaby Crocodile and others). Ask students to compare and contrast the stories, either with a Venn diagram, a columnar chart or a more formal composition.
Extend the story by assigning students the writing of another version of the story. Explore point-of-view by asking students to tell the story from the old woman character’s viewpoint or the “bad" sister’s perspective.
The Talking Eggs story teacher guide offers only a few of the endless activities that can be done with this book. You can explore the story further for similes and metaphors or for examples of “show, don’t tell" writing. Have a little fun by turning the story into a reader’s theater or even by writing and producing a video version of the story.