A FEW OTHER EVENTS FOR
APRIL 4:

  • Happy birthday Fred Brenner (The Drinking Gourd), Maya Angelou (Life Doesn’t Frighten Me), Johanna Reiss (The Upstairs Room), Elizabeth Levy (My Life as a Fifth-Grade Comedian), and Joan Leslie Woodruff (The Shiloh Renewal).
  • It’s the birthdate of Glen Rounds (1906–2002), The Blind Colt, and Phoebe Gilman (1940–2002), The Balloon Tree.
  • Happy birthday Los Angeles, incorporated as city in 1850. Read Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block and City of Angels by Tracie Peterson and James Scott Bell.
  • It’s School Librarian Day. Read Lunch Lady and the League of Librarians by Jarrett A. Krosoczka.

April has been designation National Humor Month. Many children tell adults that they just want funny books. One of my favorites in this category, Oliver Butterworth’s The Enormous Egg was created in 1956 and concerns a favorite topic of children: dinosaurs.

Nate Twichell, an ordinary boy in Freedom, New Hampshire, helps on the family farm and in his father’s printing press for the local paper (circulation 800). One day his chicken lays an enormous egg; Nate and his father carefully tend it for six weeks. And then, surprise! A baby Triceratops, which Ned names Uncle Beazley, hatches and begins to eat his way through the Twichell farm, doubling his weight every few days. A visiting scientist from Washington, D.C. gets involved, and eventually Congress has their say before Ned’s companion finds a permanent home in the National Zoo. I hadn’t read this book for years and was struck, as an adult, by Butterworth’s cynicism about congressmen. It almost makes the book seem contemporary.

Butterworth’s archives at the Thomas Dodd Center at the University of Connecticut reveal that he hoped to illustrate his own novel, only to have editor Dudley Cloud of the Atlantic Monthly put a kibosh on that idea. Butterworth then expressed the hope that Garth Williams, who had so magically illustrated Stuart Little, might be employed. In the end Louis Darling illustrated the book and was paid the extravagant fee of $1,000—causing the publisher to express consternation at the expense. After all, Butterworth himself had only been given $500 in advance for this whimsical story.

A year after the book’s release, the publisher was no longer complaining; the book had sold 4,820 copies, “which ain’t hay, hooray.” In print ever since, the book has gone on to win scores of admirers. At one point Butterworth’s editor had hopes for television adaptation, but told his writer: “It wouldn’t surprise me if you don’t believe in TV.”

Well, Butterworth did believe in creating an engaging character that children would admire and emulate. Who wouldn’t want to raise a dinosaur from an egg? Although the plot is, of course, nonsensical, Butterworth presents it in such a believable way that young readers and parents are taken along for the ride. Like Jurassic Park, The Enormous Egg rests on the fantasy that dinosaurs and humans could cohabit this planet. Even if we haven’t yet figured out how, it still feels good to laugh at this saga, the perfect read-aloud for ages six through ten.

Here’s a passage from The Enormous Egg:

Taking care of that egg was an awful chore. The trouble was that the thing was so big that the poor hen couldn’t handle it. You see, when a hen sits on her eggs, she keeps turning them over every now and then so they’ll get warmed evenly all around. I guess everyone must know that anyway, but Pop says when you’re writing something you can’t take anything for granted, because you never know who might read it. So if I start explaining something you know about already, just skip that part and go on. I suppose there might be somebody who’d lived in a city all his life, and he wouldn’t know too much about how a hen takes care of her eggs and things like that.

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Originally posted April 4, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Dinosaurs, Humor
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for The Enormous Egg
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COMMENTS

  1. Autumn says:

    I remember reading this when I was in elementary school. I mostly remember just thinking how hilarious and fun it was. I would love to check it out again now that I am an adult. It really is a great story for children though just because it is so engaging!

  2. Alina says:

    The strangest thing: I *just* recommended “The Trouble With Jenny’s Ear” to another writer last night after she mentioned another title starting “The Trouble With…” I hadn’t thought of it for years. Luckily there are used copies available on Amazon. This is one of those books that makes a girl grateful for digital reissues. It’s a book that should always be available. Both of Butterworth’s books should be.

  3. Colleen says:

    My grandparents had a farm in Georgia and I used to love to go collect eggs from the hen house. When I was younger, though, my Grandma got me to believe that one of the eggs was special, telling me it was a dinosaur egg that she discovered and was going to try to hatch. I wonder if she got the idea from Butterworth’s book! I shall certainly check it out to see how close the stories match!

  4. G.Perry says:

    I’ve been reading these reviews since day one, and it just occurred to me that a Master’s degree could be awarded for the knowledge and understanding one gains in children’s literature just by participating in this.

    And the tuition is so darn reasonable!

  5. Anita says:

    The tuition is quite reasonable. I should think of some kind of certificate for those who have participated for a year.

  6. Laura says:

    That’s a great idea! Perhaps professional development points could be awarded to participants from Massachusetts.

  7. Laura says:

    I put The Enormous Egg on display in my school library today and an eager student checked it out for her book report book. This Blog is great for circulating oldies but goodies!

  8. Anita says:

    Laura: Thanks for the report. Glad to hear this.

  9. Michelle says:

    This was my absolute favorite book when I was a child back in the very early 60’s. It was the class favorite for the teacher to read on Free Fridays. I hadn’t thought of it in years until my other favorite “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” was made into a movie. I may have to look for it for my grandson to read.

  10. Karen Boss says:

    When I was in 5th grade, I read The Enormous Egg and saw a mention of The Trouble With Jenny’s Ear either on the cover or the flap. They didn’t have it at the library and it wasn’t at the bookstore because it was already out of print (this was about 1985 or so). I was so obsessed and so desperate, my aunt and my mother knocked themselves out to find it for me. I still have that copy – the dust jacket is long gone but the glorious hot-pink textured cover embossed with a drawing of Jenny peeks off my book shelf at me and beckons to be read now and again. I still love it as much as I did back then. Nobody has ever heard of this book when I mention it but I will pass it onto my nieces when they are old enough. Right after they sign in blood they will care for it properly. :) Thanks for highlighting Butterworth.

  11. Karen Boss says:

    Me again. I had totally forgotten I commented on this page last October. And now, I’m in an intimate relationship with The Enormous Egg as part of a class () at Simmons. I have learned so much about it, about Butterworth, and have revisited this text, engaging with it as if it was as alive as Uncle Beazley.

    This book should be put in the hands of kids! It’s funny, clever, classic, AND Butterworth wrote it to challenge McCarthyism and censorship (all that stuff about the Senator and trying to do away with poor Uncle Beazley was in direct response – Butterworth and his wife were quite the amateur politicos). The trepidation with which many Americans are considering government these days seems reminiscent of those days (if I may engage in some political-ness for a moment). The semi-datedness of the text is not a worry – kids will hardly notice!

    Parents and teachers: any child who is in Washington D.C. for any reason should take a quick side trip to the National Zoo (its free!) where the Uncle Beazley statue (used in the NBC production of the film in the late 1960s) still stands today (it was just renovated!).

    YAY for THE ENORMOUS EGG, still very much hatching after 56 years!

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